Your memory plays an important role in nearly every aspect of your life. From recognizing your friends to showing up to work on time, you have your ability to remember things to thank. Unfortunately, memory is one of the many things that declines with age – and while this may be difficult to hear, it is likely not as bad as you think. The memory loss you experience as you age will most likely be minor, and there are many tricks you can use to make the loss far less of a burden.
How Does Memory Work?
Before you learn how to hack your memory, it can be extremely useful to know how it works.
Memorizing can be summed up in three processes.
First, your brain takes in new information by receiving it and encoding it.
Second, your brain recodes the information and stores it.
And finally, your brain retrieves the information.
The level of complexity surrounding the process of creating and retrieving a memory requires involvement from several parts of the brain; some of which are the following.
Cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is the outermost layer of the brain. This area takes in information from your senses.
Amygdala. The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for deciding whether the senses you’ve experienced are worth storing.
Hippocampus. The hippocampus is a circular-like structure that lies deep inside your brain. The hippocampus can be attributed to deciding whether your memories get stored as short-term or long-term.
Prefrontal Lobe. The front area of your brain is called the prefrontal lobe. This is the area of the brain responsible for retrieving the information in storage.
Memorizing not only uses many parts of the brain, but it requires those parts to work in sync. With so many factors involved, it is easy to see where things could go wrong; one change in the way you sense or perceive a particular stimulus can dramatically alter the way you remember it.
Factors Contributing to Age-Related Memory Changes
Many people begin to notice a change in their ability to remember things when they are in their 50s, according to Harvard Health. These changes are often described as trouble recalling information such as names, dates, and times, as well as a perceived increase in forgetfulness.
The noticeable changes in the ability to memorize can usually be attributed to age-related chemical changes in the brain. Two of the most commonly affected areas include the hippocampus and the frontal lobes. But normal aging, in and of itself, is not usually the sole cause of your inability to remember things; there are other supplementing factors you mustn’t ignore.
Stress and Anxiety
Living a life full of stress and anxiety is one of the quickest ways to age your brain, and as a result, destroy your working memory. The working memory, by the way, is responsible for sorting information.
Some medications can alter the brain’s chemistry, making them another culprit responsible for a declining memory.
Upwards of 75% of adults over 50-years-old take prescription medication on a regular basis. Not only does this percentage increases with age, but the number of medications rises as well, which can be harmful to memory in some cases. Talk to a medical professional about the potential negative side effects that your prescription medications could have on memory.
Both sleep quality and sleep duration play an important role in memory performance. Age often brings an increase in sleep changes such as an increased difficulty falling and staying asleep as well as more serious complications such as sleep apnea. Before you blame your memory problems on your age, make sure you are getting enough good quality sleep – emphasis on the quality.
Before you attempt to hack your aging memory, make sure you address your brain health first.
5 Ways to Hack Your Aging Memory
Memory Hack #1: Relax and Focus
As you’ve just learned, the first step in the memory process is the encoding. In order to encode something, you first need to receive it; this will require you to pay attention.
With age, focusing often becomes more of a challenge. If you have trouble focusing, it may be helpful for you involve your senses in the memory you are trying to create. Listen. Visualize what it is you are trying to remember. Reinforce your understanding by repeating it out loud.
Memory Hack # 2: Don’t Multitask
Refraining from multitasking goes hand in hand with paying attention.
Contrary to what you may believe, multitasking is a myth. Many people think they can pay attention to several things at once. As it turns out when you think you are multitasking you are really task-switching. With every switch, it can take up to 20 minutes just to regain focus.
There was a popular study conducted that tested people’s ability to multitask. Subjects were asked to watch a video of a group of people passing a basketball. They were then asked to count how many times the basketball was passed. While many of them were able to guess the correct number of times the basketball was passed, nearly all of them failed to notice the person in a gorilla suit not only walk across the screen, but also stop in the middle of the group, pound his/her check, and continue walking until he exited the frame.
This proved that when people are focused on a task, they are less likely to notice things, even those that are right in front of them. If you want to make sure the message gets encoded, you first need to receive the message.
Memory Hack #3: Create Visualizations and Associations
Another trick to help you remember something is to create visualizations and associations. Try to associate whatever it is you want to remember with something you know very well.
A great time to use this method is when you are trying to remember names. To do this, simply take a person’s name and create an association. For example, if their name is Chase, you could imagine they are involved in a car chase. But don’t stop there, imagine them driving the car and dodging other vehicles on the road. You now have a clear picture of your friend, Chase- one you will likely never forget.
Memory Hack # 4: Create a schedule
Schedules are a great tool to help you with your memory. Make a schedule, and put it in a place you visit frequently throughout the day such as your refrigerator or even keep it on your phone. Having a paper schedule can do wonders for your memory. The less time you spend thinking about what you need to do next, the more time you will have to focus on things that are more important. Also, this will reduce the time you spend figuring out what you should do next.
Memory Hack #5: Take Notes
If there is something you really want to remember, such as an important appointment, don’t hesitate to take notes. Even the healthiest brains use notes to help them remember things. Just be sure to put the note in a place you visit frequently. A great place would be in your refrigerator or in your phone. It is also important to note, the act of just taking notes can help you remember things, meaning you may not even need to use them later.
Making the Best of It
Minor changes in your ability to remember things is normal and is usually not a sign you are going to lose it. Usually, it just means you will need a little extra assistance.
Memories and thoughts age, just as people do. But certain thoughts can never age, and certain memories can never fade. -Hariki Murakami
Although minor memory loss is normal, major changes are not. If you need a little help determining if your memory loss is normal, seek medical advice from a trained professional. Here are a few resources to help you in the meantime
“5 Ways to Hack Your Aging Memory,” Ashley LeVine, Amada Blog Contributor.