Staying healthy to improve your memory
Problems can seem worse if you are stressed, worried or ill. If you can keep physically, mentally and socially active it will help you maintain memory, skills and self-confidence.
To stay healthy it is important to think about physical health, mental health, and your social life and activities.
- Eat regular balanced meals.
- Eat slowly. Allow yourself at least half an hour for each meal.
- Try to drink at least two litres (six to eight medium glasses) of fluid every day.
- Try to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. A portion is what fits in your cupped hand.
- 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 do some exercise at least five days a week, for 30 minutes or more each time. A brisk walk, swimming, cycling or pushing a lawnmower all count.
- Consider joining a local exercise group or class such as a walking group, tai chi, aerobics or yoga. Visit your library, speak to your GP or local Age UK to see what is available where you live (see ‘Other useful organisations’).
Keep your brain active
Keeping your brain active may help you retain memory and skills longer. Could you learn a new hobby? There are lots of ways to exercise your mind, including:
- keeping a diary
- doing puzzles or quizzes
- playing card games or board games.
Find ways to deal with stress and worry
It’s common for people to become worried when their memory lets them down. This makes it even harder to remember a person’s name or what you were doing.
Talking about problems can help. Try sharing your problems with someone you trust. They will welcome your trust and you may feel better just for taking some action. Friends or family may suggest solutions you hadn’t thought about.
How to relax and reduce stress
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.
- Diaphragmatic or belly breathing – where you sit or lie down with one hand on your chest and one on your belly. You breathe in and out smoothly, slowly and deeply. Your belly (rather than your chest) rises and falls as you breathe.
- 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 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 (hands, arms, neck etc).
- Guided imagery – where you visualise yourself being somewhere safe and restful, and imagine experiencing all the sights, sounds and smells.
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 mobile phone or tablet (such as an iPad).
You will need instructions to learn most of these exercises.
Ask at the doctor’s, look online (for example, the NHS website) or visit your local library or bookshop (often in the ‘wellbeing’ or ‘self help’ section). You can get specific apps for your mobile phone or tablet device to help with relaxation or try searching for videos online.
For more information on coping with memory loss, see booklet 872, The dementia guide.
Staying socially active
- Keep seeing friends and family even if memory problems leave you feeling less confident.
- Try to get out and about if you can. Chat to people.
- Find out if there is a local dementia café or memory café you can attend. Ask at your local Alzheimer’s Society or visit alzheimers.org.uk/dementiaconnect
- If you go to a place of worship or 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 physical and mental health. Find out more at alzheimers.org.uk/volunteer
- 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.
- 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, 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 and sleep routines
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 the 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 at most 30 minutes 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 caffeinefree 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. 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.
- Keep your bedroom just for sleeping or sex. Don’t use electronic devices, such as the television, radio, phone or tablet device, in the bedroom. Try not to eat or read in bed.
- When you go to bed, turn the light off.
- If you don’t fall asleep within about 10 minutes, get up and go to another room if it’s safe to do this. 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.