Your working memory is vital to living your life as fully as possible. It helps you socialize and complete tasks and is essential to your cognitive function. When we’re younger, we can hold many pieces of information in our working memory at once.
As we grow older, our abilities can decline. However, understanding how working memory functions and what you can do to improve it can stop that decline and maintain healthy cognitive function for longer. Working to improve working memory can even reduce a person’s risk of developing memory loss conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
What is Working Memory?
Working memory, also known as “short-term memory,” refers to the brain’s ability to store smaller pieces of information. We use working information in many different ways, including:
- Following a conversation
- Focusing on a task
- Planning & organization
- Doing mental math
- Using information quickly
A person’s memory ability comprises three separate components: encoding, storing, and retrieving. Encoding refers to your brain’s ability to take in information and relate it to previously learned knowledge. Storing is the process of transferring information from short-term to long-term memory. Retrieving is how we access the information we’ve accumulated.
Working memory often relies on your brain’s ability to encode information. When a person needs to do mental math, they recall the methods they’ve previously learned to complete that task.
Age-related Changes to Working Memory
When we’re young, we can hold several items in our working memory at once. As we age, our working memory risks decline. One of the main reasons for this decline is our ability to resist distractions. When distracted, our brain has difficulty encoding new information.
With age, we find it particularly difficult to encode visual information. This information may come in the form of reading or watching a presentation. Our difficulty encoding visual information is due to our declining ability to identify the fine details of shapes and colors.
As we get older, it’s vital that we exercise our working memory to ensure we can retain what existing abilities we have. While our working memory is distinct from our long-term memory, exercising any memory ability can complement our capabilities in both areas.
Improving Working Memory
Improving working memory is one of the best ways to preserve cognitive function and reduce the chance of decline. There are several ways to exercise working memory and enhance the brain’s ability to encode, store, and recall information.
Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough rest helps the brain consolidate information. When we don’t get enough sleep, we commonly cannot hold as much information in our short-term or working memory.
During sleep, the brain continually grows new pathways to store information. This growth is an essential part of memory storage. Without it, we’re less able to recall the information we need to do with our working memory.
Complete Mental Exercises
Training your brain is an essential part of improving working memory. Mentally stimulating activities like completing crosswords, puzzles, and playing strategy games are just some fun activities that also train the brain.
Socializing with people is an integral part of engaging your brain. Depression, anxiety, and loneliness are leading causes of memory loss. These conditions cause people to lose focus, which is a crucial part of working memory.
Social interaction helps us maintain happiness, which is key to combatting depression. Conversation also helps train the brain to encode information quickly and exercise cognitive function.
Being organized through creating checklists, making notes, and keeping track of daily activities are ways to encode information more effectively. You can reference what you’ve written if you’re having trouble recalling it later.
Staying organized also means developing routines. Having a place to put your keys, using a medication organizer, or setting reminders on your phone can help you keep a structured routine. A routine can reduce stress and increase your ability to focus.
Engage in Physical Activity
Daily physical activities can significantly improve your memory abilities. Exercise encourages new blood vessel growth in the brain while reducing inflammation, which can negatively impact memory.
Seniors can benefit from at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Not only does exercise improve memory, but balance and strength as well. 30 minutes of walking 5 days a week is an adequate amount of physical activity.
Eat Nutritious Food
Eating foods such as salmon, whole eggs, blueberries, and green tea are excellent foods to boost memory function. Salmon and other fatty fish contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, and blueberries are anti-inflammatory, and as such, they are vital to feeding the brain.
Memory Care at Mattison Crossing
Improving working memory can significantly increase a person’s quality of life, especially for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. While these methods can reduce a person’s risk of developing memory loss conditions, some remain at risk.
Those with memory loss conditions sometimes require additional help. This assistance often includes regular care focusing on socialization, mental exercises, nutrition, and more.