It is no secret that we tend to become more forgetful as we get older, but a recent study from an Australian Rotary Health PhD scholar suggests that some simple management strategies may help our memory.
While working as a Neuropsychologist in a Memory clinic, Dr Bridget Regan noticed there was a gap in services available for people at the earliest stages of dementia and people at high risk of developing the disease.
In 2015, Bridget was awarded funding from Australian Rotary Health to investigate whether a cognitive rehabilitation program could be helpful for people in these categories.
“I wanted to explore new approaches to providing rehabilitation with the hope of helping people to better manage their difficulties and prolong independence in the community,” Bridget said.
The intervention was designed to help people to reach their personal goals in day to day life via training in the use of cognitive management strategies such as aids or mnemonics.
Bridget and her research team from La Trobe University, MONARC (Monash Ageing Research Centre) and Alzheimer’s Australia conducted a randomised controlled trial with 40 participants who were randomly allocated to either receive the intervention or to receive treatment as usual.
“Some participants learned how to better utilise their diary or smartphone to remind them of upcoming appointments and events, other participants learnt new approaches to manage their book work in a simpler fashion.”
After 4 sessions, it was found that participants in the intervention group were more likely to achieve their goals in day-to-day life than those who weren’t.
“Many of the intervention participants also reported feeling that the intervention significantly impacted their life in that they had more insight into their problems and gained more confidence,” Bridget said.
This research further builds on evidence that suggests that individualised cognitive interventions may help to prolong independence and may even delay institutionalisation in dementia patients.
For Dementia Awareness Month, Bridget suggests the following strategies may be helpful for people with memory and thinking difficulties:
Maintain a positive attitude
The way you feel about yourself can affect how you view life and the extent to which you seize opportunities and keep persisting. Avoid thinking negative things about yourself, such as “I can’t do that” or “I’m too old”. Instead of thinking about what you can’t do, remember what you can do. Older people can learn to apply new strategies to cope with memory and thinking difficulties!
Stay calm and don’t panic
Some older people become very upset by and preoccupied with their embarrassing memory mistakes. If you make a mistake or forget something, try not to panic or worry. Be kind to yourself—remember that mistakes happen to people of all ages. If you are getting anxious, take time out to relax— have a cup of tea or chat to a friend. It may also help to try brainstorming new strategies to cope with problems you may have.
Give yourself plenty of time to learn and process new things. Sometimes we need extra time to take in what we have just learnt. If you are having difficulties or becoming stressed or anxious, don’t try to fit too many things into your day. Give yourself plenty of rest time. Learn and use relaxation techniques and meditation.
Keep a calendar
For many people, keeping a calendar (that can be shared with the whole family) can be very useful. Put it somewhere obvious (i.e., in the kitchen) and keep it in the same place. Some people use a large whiteboard. Other people find electronic calendars or mobile phones useful.
Everything in its place
Try to keep things tidy and put everything in its place: if you always put your glasses in the same place, you will always know where they are.
Keep “to do” lists
Keep a list of all of the tasks that need to be done. This can help to unclutter your mind so you can pay attention to the task at hand. Make different “to do” lists for the day, for the upcoming week or weekend, and for the long term. Then use your lists to prioritise your tasks, so you don’t waste time trying to remember what to do next or wondering what you’ve forgotten to do, and to be sure that your most essential tasks get done first.
Establish a routine
Try to do things at the same time each day or on the same day each week. This can free up your mental resources to focus on remembering new things and doing some new activities.
Take care of yourself!
Eat a variety of healthy foods, including at least five servings of fruit and vegetables, each day. Eating fish as a regular part of your diet may also help to preserve your memory and thinking abilities. Exercise on most days, ideally at a moderate level of intensity, for 30 minutes. Visit your doctor for regular check-ups and to manage any chronic illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Do not smoke or drink excessive amounts of alcohol.
Get involved in activities that you enjoy
Active participation in community activities can improve thinking and memory abilities
throughout the lifespan. Activities that include social, physical and mental components are best for keeping your brain alert—dancing, Tai chi, social bowls, singing in a choir, or volunteering! If possible, choose something new or with an element of challenge that will give your brain a workout.
Australian Rotary Health is currently advertising a number of PhD Scholarships in the area of Dementia. If this interests you, apply today.