Once upon a time it was thought that memory loss was a normal function of ageing, and that if you were becoming forgetful, it was a sign that you were just getting old and, well, perhaps a bit dotty!
But recent research into the brain indicates that brain and cognitive decline are not generally automatic or inevitable. Rather, studies show that the brain has neuroplasticity - meaning it has the capacity to generate new neurons and synapses throughout life. This makes it highly adaptable or, in other words, able to respond to changing situations and environments, and even to heal after injury in many cases.
Your brain doesn't reach a certain maximum size or capacity from which it all just goes downhill into decline. There are in fact many quite simple things you can do to keep your brain in good health and protect it against cell loss, in the process reducing the risk of memory loss and brain diseases such as dementia.
What you can do
The mental side:
- Brain exercises - these can go beyond jigsaw puzzles or crosswords, valuable as those are. University of California neuroscientist Dr Michael Merzenich has developed his BrainHQ exercises specifically to improve brain ‘fitness' and strengthen memory and function.
- ‘Use it or lose it' - this is one of Dr Merzenich's mantras! As an example he recommends avoiding GPS devices, instead studying road maps and using your memory to recall where you are going and how you will get there. One way you might do this is to look intently for several minutes at the map and create a strong mental image of the route you intend taking in your mind.