There are two main kinds of memory: short-term working memory and long-term memory. Short-term memory allows us to remember what we need at the grocery store, memorize answers for a test, think about what we just read in the newspaper, or, in essence, learn new tricks.
Long-term memory, as the name implies, helps us to remember events, information, and dates from weeks, months, or years ago. If short-term memory is not repetitively rehearsed, it does not transfer into long-term memory and we forget it. For example, remembering on Wednesday that you need to buy more butter at the store will be forgotten on Thursday when you do not need butter anymore as it was purchased the day before. Memory is affected by a number of factors, such as age, where short-term memory starts to slip and suddenly you can not quite remember what your partner just said, that you need to buy butter at the store without a list, or why you walked into the room at that moment. Here are four tips you can try now to improve your short-term memory.
Reduce your stress. The stress hormone, cortisol, is made in the adrenal glands and has a direct negative effect on the part of your brain responsible for short-term memory known as the hippocampus. The more stress in your life (emotional, physical, environmental, psychological…etc) the more you may notice you can not remember where you put your keys, the time of your appointment, or the word you were just thinking about. Rest assured, when the stress declines, short-term memory typically returns. Focus on stress-reducing activities that give you joy, say “no” to things that do not serve you, set boundaries, and seek help if you need it. Also, consider adrenal hormone testing in order to see how high or low your cortisol levels are in your body.
Evaluate your diet. If you have fallen off the wagon and are eating high sugar, high fat, high carbohydrate meals and snacks or if you are skipping meals due to being “too busy to eat,” then you are at higher risk for short-term memory problems. Blood sugar has a direct impact on the status of our brain and if it is out of whack, then our memory suffers, and we develop fatigue and brain fog. Do not skip meals and make sure you eat enough macronutrients in your day, so your brain does not feel like it is starving. Focus on healthy foods such as vegetables, lean meats, healthy fats/oils, and high fiber. Foods high in sugar such as cereal, yogurt, desserts, bars, and fancy coffee drinks may taste good at the moment, but cause a blood sugar crash resulting in brain fog. There is also research to show that excess blood sugar increases the risk for Alzheimer’s.
Get enough sleep. The average adult requires 6-9 hours of sleep every night to help repair and restore every cell in the body. This allows us to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle our day. When you skip out on sleep or find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, this affects your brain performance the next day. It can feel like you are almost “too tired” to remember so memory falters. Get off your phone/tv/tablet/computer before bed, turn off harsh overhead lights, and find a healthy wind-down night routine you can do to encourage proper sleep.
Challenge your brain! As the saying goes, “Use it or lose it” and this applies to short-term memory and your brain. Do something to Challenge your brain such as learning a new language, read an interesting non-fiction book, try crosswords or other brain stimulating puzzle activities, take a class at the local community college, learn to cook, find a new hobby, visit a museum, listen to intellectual lectures/webinars, or start playing a musical instrument.
Try these four tips to improve your working memory this week! Be aware, not every memory slip is a sign of dementia. However, it is always wise to talk with your healthcare provider if you or family members are concerned.