A Positive Outlook May Slow Memory Decline
One of the downsides of getting older is experiencing the common phenomenon of memory decline. Our family practice doctors want to reassure you that this is normal and natural. Not only because certain parts of the brain shrink in size with age, but also because we simply have more things to remember than we did when we were younger.
In addition, some diseases such as diabetes and heart disease can impair memory. So can certain medications, sleep deprivation, poor vision and/or hearing, as well as depression, along with an under-active thyroid, and poor nutrition. As we age, it becomes harder to assimilate vitamin B12 from foods, for example. This can lead to fuzzy thinking, confusion, even dementia.
Often, though, poor memory is simply attributable to the stress of ordinary, day-to-day life. It even happens to younger people. Consider the frazzled parents who leave their children in hot cars. How could anybody forget their own child, we wonder. And yet, despite all the warnings, all the tricks to help parents prevent this tragedy, it happens over and over.
Given all these factors, it’s not surprising that as we get older, we experience more of those “what did I come in here for?” moments.
What can help memory decline
But a new study seems to confirm that having a positive outlook on life can help stave off the typical memory decline that so often comes with age.
Published last month in the journal Psychological Science, the study found that people who maintain an upbeat and enthusiastic attitude toward life are less likely to experience memory decline as they get older. Psychologists call this “positive affect.”
Researchers from the Association for Psychological Science (APS) analyzed data from 991 middle-aged and older adults in the U.S. who had previously participated in a series of studies conducted between 1995-96, 2004-06, and 2013-14. They had been asked to report on a list of positive emotions they had experienced over those timeframes. They were also given memory tests. These consisted of recalling a series of words they’d just heard, and asked to repeat 15 minutes later.
After screening for outside factors that could affect the tests, researchers concluded that positivity was linked with better memory outcomes over the long term. Those who reported they were the most cheerful maintained the best memory function at the conclusion of the study.
“Our finding showed that memory declined with age,” reported Claudia Haase, and associate professor at Northwestern University and senior author on the study. “However, individuals with higher levels of positive affect had a less steep memory decline over the course of almost a decade.”
How to stay positive
Of course, no one can be sunny and upbeat all the time. And in recent months even the most optimistic and cheerful among us have found their positivity challenged.
But there are ways you can cultivate a positive outlook most of the time.
- Look for the positive side in everything. For instance, has the pandemic allowed you to spend more time at home with loved ones? If you smashed your thumb while hanging a picture, can you at least be glad it wasn’t your forefinger as well?
- Help others. When you’re feeling down, the quickest way to achieve a happiness boost is to help someone else. Volunteering—even if only virtually—has be shown to reduce rates of depression. Just holding a door for someone or offering to take their shopping cart back to the store gives you a quick lift.
- Be grateful. When everything seems to be going wrong, it can be hard to find anything to be grateful for. But there’s always something: your eyesight, your family or pets, the food on your table. Just the fact that you’re not in the ICU battling COVID-19 is a place to start!
- Avoid negativity as much as possible, whether it’s the news, your social media feed, or other people.
- Listen to upbeat music. Research has shown that happy music generates release of the chemical dopamine, immediately lifting the mood and relaxing the body.
- Time out for a daily meditation can help you put things into better perspective and improve your mood overall. Even 20 minutes a day will do it.
Eventually these things become a habit, and you may find yourself feeling happier.
What else can help
The above tips can not only help boost your mood but also help improve your memory. So can ensuring you get at least seven hours of sleep every night, engaging in regular moderate exercise, consuming a plant-based diet, and playing such brain-stimulating games as crosswords, chess, and bridge.
Severe memory impairment is not a given with aging. And constantly stressing over the occasional memory lapse is counterproductive.
The rule of thumb is, if you can’t find your keys, it’s probably nothing. If you forget what your keys are for, that’s a red flag. Either way, if you’re worried, please call us.