June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that impacts and destroys memory and certain mental functions over time. Alzheimer’s and dementia feel particularly frightening because there is seemingly no cause and there is no cure. Despite there being no real root cause, experts say that a number of factors do impact someone’s susceptibility to the degenerative disease, such as:
- Poor sleep patterns
- Previous head trauma
- Lack of exercise
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Mental stimulation and activities
While we can’t make changes to our age (though sign us up if someone figures that out!) and we can’t help previous head trauma, the other above mentioned factors can be changed. Here we’ll look at a handful of ways to practice simple mental and memory exercises that will keep your brain active and help decrease your chances of Alzheimer’s, dementia or other memory related issues.
Meditation isn’t just for yoga gurus, it’s for everyone! And part of meditation being for everyone means it can look different to everyone, as well. Some people prefer to meditate with beads or some sort of handheld item that they can focus their attention to. Others prefer a mantra (much like the classic “om” sound you’ve likely heard before!), chant, sound or prayer to focus their thoughts on one core intention or desire. Some who meditate prefer to practice a completely clear mind, free of any thought. And others practice task-based meditation—either walking a repeated trail, kneading bread or raking sand. The key to meditation is less about what you do while you’re doing it and more about clearing your mind to allow yourself to focus on one thing at a time.
While it sounds simple to only think about one thing at a time, try doing it for a moment. Do you notice yourself referring back to your grocery list, worrying over something you saw on the news, or getting distracted by your kids in the background? The exercise of training your mind to clear its thoughts is tough mental work, and that’s why it’s one of the most helpful tactics in exercising your mind.
Test Your Recall
Do you ever find yourself trying to remember your parking space number or the items on your grocery list that you accidentally left at home, only to realize you only remember a small bit of it? You’re definitely not alone there! That’s not necessarily because you have issues with your memory. It’s very likely that you’re just so full of information already, that the small details just slip away.
In fact, it’s been reported that the average person consumes six newspapers worth of information every single day. That’s roughly 100,000 words and 34GB of data. For reference, that’s up 350% from just 30 years ago. That’s another reason why meditation is so helpful—it helps clear the noise even just for a moment.
But another way to work on remembering those key details amidst the clutter is by testing your recall. Very similar to the memory game you played as a kid, a recall test is a memory exercise where you give yourself a handful of facts or images to remember, then you wait a moment and see how many you can remember from there.
Don’t expect yourself to be perfect at this memory exercise on the first go—it takes practice! Try making a game out of it to see just how much better you do every single time you try.
The Four Details Exercise
Similar to the recall test, the four details memory exercise is a practice where you commit to memory four small details about a person, place or thing that you interact with. For example, say you strike up a conversation with someone in the grocery line. What are some things that immediately stand out to you about that person? Perhaps they have black hair, are wearing a green shirt, have sandals on their feet and speak with a slightly Southern accent.
The key is to notice the details and then work to recall them later. Not only will it help you stay more attentive in conversations and in the moment, it’ll help exercise the parts of your brain that encourage remembering. This is a memory exercise that some scientists call “passive memory training”. Passive memory training means that it’s not requiring some sort of special technique or skill, it’s only encouraging you to remember.
Another similar exercise could be to repeat and remember what people say in your mind. This exercise encourages you to focus again on the details and then remember them later.
Studies have shown that lifelong learning and socializing helps reduce risk of Alzheimer’s. Thankfully, there are so many opportunities today to continue learning, completely for free and completely from home.
A few resources to check out include:
YouTube – First and foremost, YouTube is an incredible resource when you’re looking to learn about certain topics or even how to perform a specific task. Check out CrashCourse, CGP Grey and Ted Ed, to name just a few.
- Coursera – It’s completely free to join Coursera, and there are roughly 1,400 courses that are completely free on the platform. There, you’ll be able to take courses on anything from well-being and machine learning to negotiation strategies. Plus, if there’s a subject you’d like to dive deeper into, there are options to pay for certification courses or even degree programs.
- Khan Academy – Khan Academy is a great resource for learners of all ages. Courses range from preschool math to microeconomics at the college level, all the way to useful life skills like personal finance.
The key is to find a topic you feel curious about and then dive right in. Once you’ve found a subject you want to learn more about, a simple online search outside of these resources listed above will likely yield a ton of information for you to learn from.
We’re Here to Help
Your mind is the most valuable tool that you have, so it’s important to take care of it to the best of your ability. And we’re here to help. If you want to learn more about memory exercises or even other ways to improve your brain health, simply ask at your next appointment.