Staying healthy to help your memory

Read about how looking after your health will help with your memory day to day and in the long run.

Physical health and your memory

Just because you have dementia doesn’t mean you should feel unwell. Looking after your physical health can help with your memory.

  • Try to eat balanced meals and drink plenty of fluids.
  • If you smoke, try to give up, and drink alcohol in moderation (if at all). Your GP surgery will be able to give you support and advice about healthy levels of alcohol and about stopping smoking.
  • Try to be physically active and do some kind of exercise several times a week for 30 minutes or more each time. A brisk walk, swimming, cycling or gardening all count.
  • Consider joining a local exercise group or class such as a walking group, tai chi, dance, aerobics or yoga. Visit our dementia directory to see what is available where you live.
  • Get enough sleep, preferably during the night-time (try to avoid long naps during the day).
  • If you often feel low or irritable, you may be depressed. There are treatments for depression and anxiety so see your GP if it continues or gets worse.
  • Get your sight and hearing checked regularly. If you need a hearing aid, wear it, check the batteries and keep it clean. If you wear glasses, make sure they fit comfortably and keep them clean.
  • See the dentist regularly and maintain good mouth hygiene.
  • Pay attention to foot care and make sure your shoes and slippers fit well.
  • Ask your GP about vaccines, such as for coronavirus, flu, pneumonia (for over-65s) and shingles (for over-70s).

Mental health and your memory

Looking after your mental health can also help your memory in several ways.

Keeping your brain active may help you retain your memory and other mental abilities for longer. Could you learn a new hobby? There are lots of ways to exercise your mind, including:

  • reading
  • keeping a diary
  • doing puzzles or quizzes
  • playing card games or board games.

It’s common for people to become worried when they have memory problems. This makes it even harder to remember a person’s name or what you were doing. The following tips may help you to manage stress or worry:

  • Talking about problems can help. Try sharing your problems with someone you trust. They will likely welcome your trust and you may feel better just for taking some action. Friends or family may suggest solutions you hadn’t thought about.
  • Try to maintain a healthy diet and keep physically and socially active as this can help with mental health as well as physical health.
  • Complementary and alternative therapies such as aromatherapy, acupuncture and massage therapy may be helpful. Speak to your GP before trying any of these.
  • It is important to be able to relax.

There are many different exercises and techniques you can practise to help you relax and reduce stress. Here are some of the more popular ones.

You can sometimes combine these. Try some to see what works for you.

  • Mindful breathing – where you sit with your eyes closed and just focus on breathing in and out, and how this feels. When your mind wanders, you gently bring your focus back to your breathing.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation – where you lie down and then tense, hold and relax different muscle groups in your body, in turn from your head to your toes (hands, arms, neck, and so on).
  • Creative activities – things like painting, playing an instrument, colouring books for adults and craftwork can all be pleasurable, relaxing and give a real sense of achievement.
  • Guided imagery – where you visualise yourself being somewhere safe and restful, and imagine experiencing all the sights, sounds and smells.
  • Meditation or prayer – taking time to meditate or pray can have physical, mental and emotional benefits.
  • Playing games – simple card games (like Patience), crosswords, or games on your smartphone or tablet can all be good ways to relax.
  • Listening to relaxing music (or sounds such as waves) – you can get a relaxation CD from your library, a shop or online. You can also download relaxation music to a smartphone or tablet.
  • Singing – singing your favourite songs can be a good way to relax. Make a ‘playlist’ of your favourite music which cheers you up or calms you down.

You will need instructions to learn most of the exercises. Ask your GP, look online (the NHS website has detailed information about breathing techniques) or visit your local library or bookshop (they may have
a ‘wellbeing’ or ‘self-help’ section).

You can try searching for videos online or get specific apps for your smartphone or tablet to help with relaxation. You can find these in app stores, or others are available through the AcToDementia website.

If you have a diagnosis of dementia, you can find more information on how to live well with the condition in The dementia guide: Living well after your diagnosis.

Staying socially active can also help with your memory.

  • Keep seeing friends and family even if memory problems leave you feeling less confident.
  • Try to get out and about if you can, and talk to people. If that isn’t possible, video calling on your computer, smartphone or tablet can help you stay connected.
  • Find out if there is a local dementia café or memory café you can attend. Search for services in your area using our dementia directory.
  • If you go to a place of worship, community group or activity, continue to attend this regularly. Consider volunteering. It can help you to stay socially and physically active and it can be good for your physical and mental health.
  • Try to manage your time so you can get everything done. It can help to do the most important things first and come back to other things later. Plan breaks in between tasks so you can rest.
  • Give yourself time for hobbies – for example, reading, singing, swimming or meeting friends.
  • Try keeping a ‘wish list’ of things that you would like to do, such as a trip to the cinema, theatre, a football match or a local place of interest. Try to make sure that you do something from your wish list once a week to help maintain a sense of wellbeing.

Sleep is essential to good physical and mental health and wellbeing. Sleep also plays an important role in memory and learning. Research suggests that sleep helps you to store new memories in your brain over time. Sleep can also help with ‘cognitive’ processes (for example, thinking and problem-solving).

There are many reasons why you might have trouble getting to sleep or find that your sleep pattern varies. If you have trouble sleeping, the following suggestions may help:

  • Set the alarm for the same time every morning and get up when it goes off. Do this whether or not you feel you have had a good night’s sleep. It will help your body to develop a regular sleep pattern.
  • Being more active and going outside during daylight can help. 
  • Avoid long daytime naps. If you do need one, keep it to 30 minutes at most and no later in the day than early afternoon.
  • Avoid tea, coffee, cola and cocoa from lunchtime onwards. These are stimulants and can keep you awake. Try caffeine free varieties.
  • Avoid eating a heavy meal or drinking too much fluid in the evening. Digesting a meal can keep you awake, or you might wake up to go to the toilet.
  • Don’t drink alcohol before going to bed.
  • Try not to do anything that needs a lot of physical or mental energy – such as going for a run or Sudoku – during the hour before you go to bed. Otherwise, your body and mind will still be awake when you go to bed.
  • Wait until you are sleepy before you lie down to go to sleep. Make sure the room is at a comfortable temperature and not too bright.
  • Ideally your bedroom should be used only for sleeping in, or for sexual and physical intimacy. Don’t use electronic devices, such as a television, radio, phone or tablet in the bedroom. Try not to eat or read in bed.
  • If you don’t fall asleep within about 10 minutes, get up and go to another room. You may wish to use a night-light. Do something relaxing in the other room and only go back to bed when you feel sleepy. You may find that you have to do this more than once a night.
  • An activity tracker can help you understand more about your sleep patterns and the type of sleep you are getting. This can help you to develop better sleep routines.
Practical tips for supporting someone with memory loss

There are many practical ways that you can support a person with dementia who is having difficulties with their memory.  Read our advice on supporting someone with memory loss. 

Read our advice
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