Memory and the Aging Brain

By Sue Ann Highland, PhDc


As we age, we often experience forgetfulness. In fact, researchers have identified several types of normal memory loss. I will focus on three types:

• Transience: This is the tendency to forget things over time, particularly information that you don’t use often. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it allows the brain to more easily remember newer or more relevant memories and information.

• Absentmindedness: This is often caused by not paying close enough attention to something in the first place. When something hasn’t been firmly planted in your memory to begin with, it’s harder to recall.

• Bias: Memories can be influenced, even corrupted, by many factors. Some of which include our mood, beliefs, experiences, and knowledge at the time the memory was made and at the time it is recalled.

Lifestyle Improvements
Cleveland Clinic’s Six Pillars of Brain Health give us guidance for maintaining a healthy brain:

• Physical exercise
• Food and nutrition
• Medical health
• Sleep and relaxation
• Social interaction
• Mental fitness

These six pillars show us we need to keep our brains healthy and active as we age. Long- and short-term memory skills are part of the core cognitive skills the brain uses to think, learn, and perform daily. That’s good news, because we know now that the brain can grow and change at any age. We didn’t always realize this about the brain—there was a time when we thought brain skills (and even IQ) were set in stone.

Today, we realize this could not be further from the truth. That said, there are many factors that studies show have a positive impact on our ability to remember well. Lifestyle choices like getting enough physical exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, keeping stress down, getting enough sleep, and maintaining an active social life have all been shown to enhance cognitive performance and improve memory.


Source: National Institute on Aging


Mental workouts
You can do things at home to help you maintain your memory. Do things that take you out of your comfort zone and give your brain a good workout. Challenge yourself to learn new things, solve problems, or do something differently than you’ve done before. For example, learning a new language, learning to play an instrument, traveling to foreign countries and even learning dance choreography are good for brain performance and memory skills. You want to be sure to try things that challenge your memory just a bit. Things that are just out of reach will help your brain work. Consider this your challenge zone.

Be sure to stay active and social too. Go out with old friends, play games, create new experiences, and be sure to meet new friends. You can even start a journal telling your children and grandchildren stories from long ago. This will not only be a great way to strengthen memory but will also be a great present for your family. If you are tech savvy, you could even do short videos of your stories so generations to come can listen to your wonderful tales. Try some of these things and share with your friends. Maybe someone you know could use some help strengthening their memory too.

Sue Ann Highland, PhDc, is the organizational development director for LearningRx in Fort Collins. Based in Colorado Springs, LearningRx has 80 centers in the U.S., where individuals and families sharpen their cognitive skills to help them think faster, learn easier, and perform better. Their pioneering methods have been used in clinical settings for over 35 years and have been verified as beneficial in peer-reviewed research papers and journals. To learn more, visit