As you get older, if you notice yourself occasionally forgetting a phone number or misremembering a name, you're not alone. According to the American Psychological Association, the brain's volume is largest in your early twenties—after that, it begins to decline. You might not notice the effects until you reach your forties, when you're most likely to notice forgetfulness or a change in your ability to multitask. The good news? There are a number of memory improvement activities that can help keep your mind sharp. While it's inevitable that your brain will change with age, your hobbies and pastimes may actually help improve your memory. Here's how you can boost your memory while still having fun.
Games that involve strategy, wordplay, and numbers may help improve your memory, reports WebMD. Playing games requires problem-solving skills, which can help increase neuroplasticity (the brain's ability to develop and form new neural connections) and keep your mind sharp. Whether you tackle a book of Sudoku puzzles while you wait for a doctor's appointment or get together for a game of bridge with friends, your casual game play is helping to create stronger neural pathways in the brain. Look for games that challenge your thinking, encourage problem solving, or require you to reach back in your memory (such as trivia or crossword puzzles). Recent studies also suggest that playing video games, particularly action-based games, can lead to memory improvement and can improve cognitive function in older adults.
According to the Mayo Clinic, spending time with friends and family can help keep your brain young as you age. That's because having a strong social circle and enjoying time with loved ones can help reduce depression and stress—two of the leading causes of brain deterioration. Spending time in conversation, having lunch with friends, and making family time a priority helps to ward off the negative effects that depression and anxiety have on the brain. If you don't have a strong social support system in place, you can find new friends and social opportunities through community clubs and volunteer work.
When you learn something new, something interesting happens in your brain. According to recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, new information actually strengthens the pathways between neurons in the brain. That means that when you learn something new, your brain isn't only getting smarter—it's getting stronger.
That doesn't mean you need to go back to school, however. Learning something new can be as simple as taking a photography course, learning about history online, or using a language app on your phone. Any time you give your brain new information, you're helping to protect it against the natural deterioration that comes with aging.
Picking up a guitar or plunking away at a piano may be more than just music to your ears. It may be balm for your brain as well. According to Psychology Today, learning to play a musical instrument improves your working memory capacity. Working memory is responsible for in-the-moment cognition, language, and decision-making skills, so strumming on a ukulele could have major benefits when it comes to keeping your mind—and all of its processes—sharp as you age.
Don't know how to play a musical instrument? Combine both learning and music and give your brain a memory-boosting workout. Music lessons are often available through community services and senior centers.
If you have the means and the opportunity, travel is the perfect way to give your brain a boost, according to the Global Coalition on Aging. When you experience another culture, your brain is constantly working to overcome potential challenges such as communicating through language barriers and navigating a new environment. As you learn more about a location and its customs, you're also challenging your brain to accept new concepts and information. Of course, taking a well-deserved vacation can also help lower stress levels, which can keep your mind (and body) healthy.
And you don't necessarily have to travel to another country to reap the benefits. Simply taking a weekend getaway to a new location, visiting a landmark or historical site, or trying a new experience can help you keep your mind sharp.
While occasionally losing your keys or forgetting your mailman's name might be an inevitable part of aging, you don't need to simply accept the negative impact of aging on your brain. The way you spend your leisure time can help keep your brain sharp, as long as those hobbies challenge you to think, solve problems, and learn. As you strengthen your brain and improve your memory, you'll be able to stave off the effects of aging and enjoy a mind that is spry, clear, and every bit as young as you feel.
Memory Changes in Older Adults, American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/research/action/memory-changes.aspx
Can Games, Puzzles Keep Aging Minds Sharp? (WebMD): http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/news/20140714/can-games-puzzles-keep-aging-minds-sharp
The Aging Mind: Neuroplasticity in Response to Cognitive Training, Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3622463/
The Impacts of Video Games on Cognition (Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences): http://greenlab.psych.wisc.edu/documents/Policy_Insights_from_the_Behavioral_and_Brain_Sciences-2015-Green-101-10.pdf
Seven Tips to Keep Your Mind Young (Mayo Clinic): http://intheloop.mayoclinic.org/discussion/seven-tips-to-keep-your-mind-young/Synaptic
Plasticity by Antidromic Firing During Hippocampal Network Oscillations (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences): http://www.pnas.org/content/110/13/5175.full
Music Training Helps Learning & Memory (Psychology Today): https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201007/music-training-helps-learning-memory
Destination Healthy Aging: The Physical, Cognitive and Social Benefits of Travel (Global Coalition on Aging): http://www.globalcoalitiononaging.com/v2/data/uploads/documents/destination-healthy-aging-fact-sheet_final.pdf