Memory loss can be frustrating and disheartening, not only for the person experiencing it firsthand, but also for their loved ones and caregivers. While the cure for dementia and other memory problems remains elusive, research has demonstrated how education, support, and simple tools, like memory notebooks, can help those on the memory-loss continuum maintain a sense of control and prolong their independence.
According to an article by Harvard Health Publishing, memory lapses can occur at any age, but it’s natural to be more concerned as you age, as you may fear they are a sign of dementia, loss of intellectual function, or Alzheimer’s disease. Most of the fleeting memory problems you experience with age, the article continues, reflect normal changes in the structure and function of the brain that can slow certain cognitive processes and make it harder to learn new things quickly or screen out distractions that interfere with memory and learning. The good news is that research has produced a variety of strategies you can use to help protect and sharpen your mind.
Memory notebooks cannot cure dementia and memory loss, but both reading and writing can exercise your mind and prevent mild cognitive impairment. More importantly, dedicating time each day or week to reading and writing can help reduce stress, granting you peace of mind that any important dates, appointments, information, and even memories you want to remember are documented for future reference.
Related reading: Learn why seniors should be drinking more water.
Researching the Effectiveness of Memory Notebooks
In 2012, psychology researchers at Washington State University implemented the use of memory books—along with stress-reduction techniques, communication skills, problem solving, and socialization—for memory-focused treatment and intervention groups. In an article for WSU News, Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, a professor of psychology at WSU Pullman, pointed out there is still no medication proven to significantly slow or reverse memory loss. Her research focuses on better understanding the memory process itself, so effective interventions or external aids can be created to help improve memory and delay difficulties associated with cognitive impairment.
Keeping a memory notebook, filled with reminders or information you don’t want to forget, can help you "remember to remember," one of the most challenging aspects of memory loss, according to Schmitter-Edgecombe. Once you’ve written down a note to yourself, you will be less stressed about forgetting the information or overloading your memory circuits. You can also economize your brain use. If you’re not worried about remembering the content in your memory book—because it’s safely preserved for future reference—you are better able to concentrate on the present, which includes learning new things and embedding them into your memory.
What Is in a Memory Notebook?
Your memory notebook can include any number of items. Some people prefer to dedicate a journal to important dates, such as birthdays and anniversaries, as well as upcoming appointments and events. This sort of to-do list or daily calendar can help you keep track of what you need to do in the future and strengthen your prospective memory.
Just getting through the day, however, requires numerous kinds of memory. If you struggle from memory loss, keeping a running journal throughout the day and writing in it every hour or so—what you’ve done, who you talked to, what they said, and other details—can help you feel more in control of your life and experiences.
In another notebook, you may want to write down important events from your past and the details you remember from them, as well as other content you don’t want to forget. You can include sections on family relationships, finances, family recipes, and your health history, for example. Documenting your life and the experiences that mean the most to you is a useful tool for exercising your mind and combatting the symptoms of long-term memory loss.
“Even though this is an external aid, it’s also something that requires individuals to continue to use their cognitive abilities,” Schmitter-Edgecombe told WSU News. “And that may act to reinforce some of their memories.”
Establishing this habit early on, before significant cognitive impairment occurs, is critical, since future memory loss can make it even more difficult to learn and adopt new habits.
Memory Exercises for Elderly
Along with memory books, there are a myriad of other cognitive strategies and memory exercises for seniors that they can practice to keep their mental faculties sharp. For example, a good exercise is to audibly repeat something you’ve just heard, read, or thought about, such as someone’s name or where you’ve placed your belongings. According to the Harvard Health article, this can reinforce the memory or connection. That being said, repetition is most potent when it’s spaced out properly. If you’re learning new information, re-visit it once an hour or every few hours, gradually spacing it out to once per day. Spaced periods of study or rehearsal improves recall, especially if you’re learning a new skill or trying to remember information that is particularly complicated.
Other mentally-stimulating activities—such as reading a book, playing games, and practicing memorization—can also help stave off memory problems. You can challenge yourself with activities like crossword puzzles, word searches, and Sudoku, or add a social component by playing cards or table games. Engaging with others can stimulate you mentally in and of itself because it regularly exposes you to new information, stories, and experiences. Village Green Retirement Campus offers a full calendar of events that give you an opportunity to socialize with your peers, participate in games and activities, and learn new skills.
Transitioning to a Senior Living Community
Whether you’re struggling with early signs of memory loss or not, moving to a senior living community such as Village Green can be socially, mentally, and emotionally beneficial. You will not only have access to caregivers and convenient dining, housekeeping, and personal care services, but you will also develop a community of peers who can motivate you to play games, attend events, and engage in other stimulating activities to help protect and sharpen your mind.
“Notebook helps manage and improve memory.” Washington State University. Accessed online at https://news.wsu.edu/2012/03/27/notebook-helps-manage-and-improve-memory/
“Preserving and improving memory as we age.” Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. Accessed online at https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/preserving-and-improving-memory-as-we-age
“Reading, writing may help preserve memory in older age.” CBS News. Accessed online at https://www.cbsnews.com/news/reading-writing-may-help-preserve-memory-in-older-age/