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Our Caregiver's e-Mall is filling up with great stores and a growing number of items just in time for the holidays. Whether you browse and find a book or tape to help you with caregiving, or come across a wonderful gift for a friend or family member, the e-Mall can be your source for easy shopping and gift-giving.

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Posted: May 18, 2006

Spousal Caregiving

10 Tips to Improve Your Memory

Bill Andrew

How is your memory? Is it as sharp as it used to be? Are you having difficulty learning new things -- especially as they relate to your caregiving activities? How about remembering something that you heard or did very recently? Can you recall pertinent facts about your loved one -- or yourself? As caregivers, it behooves all of us to be at the "peak" of our ability to provide the care with which we have been charged. Are you concerned about your memory?

While I am not an expert on memory, I do have first-hand experience with the problems that can occur. Remember, my spouse, Carol, has late-stage Alzheimer's disease and her memory -- both short-term and long-term -- has been severely compromised by the disease process. I worry more about my memory and my ability to continue to provide 24/7 quality care for her. Therefore, I am doing everything I can to maintain and improve my personal memory. Recently, I came across something that I wanted to share with you -- something that has helped me and could help you.

Memory loss is not an inevitable result of getting older. Various neurological diseases may impact your memory, but I personally know people in their 90s and beyond who have extremely sharp memories. Perhaps you do as well.

Various healthful habits may help to protect your memory from fading -- but the aging brain may need some extra help to stay sharp as it was when you and I were younger. What I am about to describe presents a practical guide to improve your ability to learn and remember. These memory improvement suggestions come from the experts -- they are not my originals -- and could very well help you in your role as caregiver for your spouse.

These suggestions have been derived from HEALTHbeat, an e-mail newsletter from the Harvard Medical School. According to this newsletter, normal age-related changes in the brain can slow some cognitive processes -- these are not disease-caused changes. Such changes make it harder for the brain to learn new things or to ward off distractions. Thanks to decades of research, most of us can sharpen our minds with proven, do-it-yourself strategies. Here are 10 research-proven ways to boost your ability to remember as you age.

1. Believe in yourself. Myths about aging can contribute to a failing memory. Middle-aged and older learners do worse on memory tasks when exposed to negative stereotypes about aging and memory, and better if exposed to messages about memory preservation into old age.

2. Economize your brain use. Take advantage of calendars and planners, maps, shopping lists, file folders, and address books to keep routine information accessible. Designate a place at home for your glasses, keys, and other items you use frequently.

3. Organize your thoughts. New information that’s broken into smaller chunks, such as the hyphenated sections of a phone or Social Security number, is easier to remember than a single long list, such as financial account numbers or the name of everyone in a classroom.

4. Use all your senses. The more senses you use when you learn something, the more of your brain will be involved in retaining the memory. For example, odors are famous for conjuring memories from the distant past, especially those with strong emotional content, such as visits to a cookie-baking grandparent.

5. Expand your brain. Widen the brain regions involved in learning by reading aloud, drawing a picture, or writing down the information you want to learn (even if you never look back at your notes). Just forming a visual image of something makes it easier to remember and understand; it forces you to make the information more precise.

6. Repeat after me. When you want to remember something you have just heard or thought about, repeat it out loud. For example, if you’ve just been told someone’s name, use it when you speak with him or her: "So, John, where did you meet Camille?"

7. Space it out. Instead of repeating something many times in a short period, as if you were cramming for an exam, re-study the essentials after increasingly longer periods of time -- once an hour, then every few hours, then every day. Spacing out periods of study is particularly valuable when you are trying to master complicated information.

8. Make a mnemonic. Mnemonic devices are creative ways to remember lists. They can take the form of acronyms -- such as the classic "Every good boy does fine," to remember the musical notes E, G, B, D, and F on the lines of the treble clef. For older learners, a particularly helpful system is a story mnemonic -- that is, a brief narrative in which each item cues you to remember the next one.

9. Challenge yourself. Engaging in activities that require you to concentrate and tax your memory will help you maintain skills as you age. Discuss books, do crossword puzzles, try new recipes, travel, and undertake projects or hobbies that require skills you aren’t familiar or comfortable with.

10. Take a course. Memory-improvement courses are becoming more common. Choose one run by health professionals or experts in psychology or cognitive rehabilitation. Stay away from courses that center on computer or concentration games, which generally won’t help you with real-life memory problems. Select a course that focuses on practical ways to manage everyday challenges.

For more information on the many things that you can do to protect and improve your memory, you could order the special report Improving Memory: Understanding and Preventing Age-related Memory Loss.

I have personally used many of these suggestions over the years. If you have not, what have you got to lose? And look at what you have to gain! It behooves you to at least try it for the sake of your loved one -- right?

You may have had occasion to try one or more of these suggestions and would like to share them with our readers. If so, e-mail me at ASKBill@caregivershome.com.

WORDS TO CARE BY . . .

"One must have a good memory

to be able to keep the promises one makes."

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)


Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at ASKBill@caregivershome.com.

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© 2006 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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