Memory and cognitive function are critical for daily life, impacting our everyday problem solving, decision making, and social interactions. As people age, many individuals struggle with memory and cognitive function making their daily participation in activities more challenging which affects their overall quality of life. In this article, we will explore five strategies that can help boost memory and cognitive function so you can lead a fulfilling life.
To improve recall of information, try using mnemonics such as chunking, association, and rhyming strategies. Mnemonics are a great way to remember your grocery store list, phone numbers, and names.
- Chunking: This strategy focuses on breaking large amount of information into smaller “chunks”. For example, when you are attempting to remember your physician’s phone number to make an appointment. Try to segment the entire phone number into 3 sections (e.g. “213-547-3000”). These smaller “chunks” of information are easier to recall than the larger piece of information 2135473000. In early stages of dementia and mild cognitive function, chunking has been proven to be successful in improving the working memory.
- Music Mnemonics: Music is a powerful tool to help improve memory. Try making a song or a jingle to remember important information. For example, many students make a song about the United States map to help recall the geographic location of each state.
- Acronyms: Acronyms are another great way to help recall information. Acronyms are often challenging for individuals with brain injury, but can be a learned skill. For example, think about the colors of the rainbow and acronym of ROYGBIV (“red, orange, yellow, green, indigo, violet”).
- Association: Try to match new information with something you are familiar with. Often when learning people’s names for the first time, they are encouraged to use an adjective that starts with the matching first letter such as “Happy Holly”. Whenever you run into Holly and forget her name, the initial sound/letter of “h” for “happy” will help trigger the name, Holly.
- Categories: Similarly to association, you can think of the matching category of items. For example if you need “milk, yogurt, and cheese” on your grocery store visit. You might use the category of “dairy” to help you recall those items.
Engaging in memory exercises, brain puzzles, and games have been found to challenge and improve overall cognitive function. My favorite brain puzzle to use with patients is sudoku. Not only does sudoku require recall of what numbers don’t work in a particular square, but it also challenges the individual with sustained attention, problem solving, higher level planning, and organization. If you don’t use it, you lose it. As a result, engaging in some type of challenge for your brain is beneficial.
To help improve memory, cognitive function, and independence with daily activities, try to incorporate visual reminders such as a calendar, post-it notes, or an alarm clock on your phone. Using external aids in supplement with memory exercises will help serve as reminders for important information (e.g. medications, doctor’s appointments, etc.)
Research has shown that lifestyle choices can improve memory and cognitive function.
- Exercise: Exercise has been show to improve memory through “stimulation in reduction of insulin resistance and inflammation which encourages growth of new blood vessels and cells”.
- Meditation: Practicing mindfulness has been shown to improve working memory through improved sustained attention. By practicing mindfulness, one can train their brain to minimize distractions and focus on the present task at hand.
- Sleep: Getting enough sleep is crucial for cognitive function. When we sleep, our brains consolidate memories and strengthen neural connections. Additionally when we experience a lack of sleep, it is often difficult to focus on tasks.
- Nutrition: Eating a healthy and balanced diet is critical for overall health, including cognitive function. Consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish and nuts, and antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, can help protect the brain and improve working memory.
Memory and cognitive function are critical components of language processing and communication. People with speech and language disorders may struggle with memory and cognitive function, which can impact their ability to communicate effectively. The five strategies discussed in this article can help improve memory and cognitive function to improve independence in your daily life.
Schedule a free consultation below to learn more and work with a licensed speech language pathologist for training and implementation of these skills. By working with a speech therapist, people with speech and language disorders can improve their communication and cognitive skills to enhance their overall quality of life.