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There are ways to stay sharp as you age

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One of the best things about living a long life is accumulating all those  fond memories.

From birthdays and anniversaries to vacations and maybe even just a really great meal, there’s nothing quite like being able to reflect on all of the big and not-so-big moments that have added up over the decades.

For many seniors, however, one of the cruel paradoxes of memory is that often by the time one gets to the point of having so many great things to look back on, one’s memory starts fading. 

Long a subject of lighthearted jest, age-related “senior moments” may include forgetting the reading glasses propped upon one’s head or walking into a room and not remembering why. But memory loss gets a little more serious when it starts to involve things like missing appointments, getting lost while driving or even walking in a familiar area.

“When memory loss is disrupting tasks of everyday life and making day-to-day activities difficult, it may be a sign that age-related memory loss is something more serious,” says Leslie Darrow, vice president of post-acute services for Community Healthcare System and executive director of Hartsfield Village in Munster.

Darrow notes that things such as asking repetitive questions, using poor judgment, having difficulty with conversation, forgetting common words or isolating from social gatherings and hobbies can be signs that it’s time to seek a physician’s help for memory issues. The goal, she says, is to shut down the possibility of these kinds of behaviors leading to more dangerous developments like suffering a fall, forgetting to turn off an oven or leaving home without a coat in very cold weather.

But while some cognitive decline may be unavoidable, many experts say there are steps seniors can take to help better maintain their memory and stave off some of the more serious complications of age-related slippage. They begin with simply keeping one’s brain engaged on a day-to-day basis.

Jolene Gelarden, a nurse practitioner for the Community Care Network on staff at Hartsfield Village, recommends seniors looking to encourage a healthy brain make a special effort to:

  • Follow routines
  • Use visual cues such as reminder notes for important information
  • Limit distractions in their everyday environment
  • Ensure their eyeglass and hearing-aid prescriptions are up to date
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Avoid rearranging furniture or reorganizing kitchen drawers often.

She also encourages seniors to keep up with their routine medical care, including regular checkups and yearly physicals.

There are also a number of broader lifestyle choices that seniors can make to help maintain healthy brain function.

“Eating a healthy diet, exercising several times a week, doing stretching and strength training a few times a week, learning something new like a new language, playing Sudoku or other games — these are all good ways to keep the brain active,” says Dr. Rajarajeswari Majety, a Franciscan Health physician who specializes in geriatric medicine. “Staying socially connected and active can also help both those who are already suffering some form of memory loss and those who aren’t yet but are looking to avoid it.”

“Use it or lose it,” Gelarden advises in summation. “An active brain is a healthy brain, so the more connections — or synapses — you develop between brain cells through usage, the more resistant your brain will be to developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

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