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Minding Our Memory: Challenges and Training Techniques

What does it mean to mind our memory? As we age, many of us will experience some sort of cognitive decline, whether it’s age-related memory loss or dementia. By minding our memory and prioritizing cognitive health, we can help prevent cerebral atrophy and maintain stable levels of cognitive function.

According to Dr. Linda Ercoli, there are two types of cognitive abilities – the crystallized abilities and the fluid abilities. Often referred to as “old knowledge,” our crystallized abilities are educational, social, cultural and occupational knowledge. For example, this includes cultural information such as the role of the president or educational information like basic definitions of various common words. Crystalized knowledge steadily improves or remains stable until around our seventh decade of life, after which it rapidly begins to decline.

Click the image to view the webinar with Dr. Ercoli.

Fluid abilities are a sort of “new” knowledge, which includes our speed of processing in terms of solving problems, abstract reasoning, mental calculation and new information storage, according to Dr. Ercoli. Our fluid abilities tend to decrease at a faster rate than our crystallized abilities, rapidly declining after the age of 65. Cognitive decline in both areas results in a sort of cerebral atrophy, or loss of brain volume. This translates to problems in remembering future tasks, events, conversations or names and constantly finding yourself searching for words.

There is a very broad definition of normal aging in terms of cognitive function. Aging and memory are relative to everyone. It’s important to note that dementia is not a part of normal aging. The Alzheimer’s Association states dementia is a general term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia.

Dr. Ercoli provides some challenges and training techniques that can be easily tailored to each person to help combat cognitive decline and cerebral atrophy. By implementing a combination of these three techniques, we aim to improve overall quality of life, promote independent living, increase cognitive function and help maintain stable levels of both crystallized and fluid abilities.

  1. Staying mentally stimulated by reading or learning new things. Learning compensatory methods to learn new tasks or new ways of accomplishing tasks.
  2. Socializing through face-to-face or technological conversations. Simply being around others. Interacting with new people.
  3. Leading a healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly and limiting alcohol intake.

Another helpful tip from Dr. Ercoli is practicing visualization and imaginative visual imagery. For example, if you find yourself struggling to remember the names of new people you meet, try paying mindful attention to his or her face. Associate the name with a physical feature that you can visualize. If the individual’s name is Rosie, look at her rosy cheeks or hair to help trigger your memory next time you see her. Still struggling to remember her name? Create a story or narrative to help jog your memory. Imagine Rosie with her rosy cheeks walking through a rose garden. Imagine the smell of roses permeating the air and rose petals lining the path you walk on. Simple visuals like these can significantly increase your word association and memory level because it involves multiple cognitive abilities.

Minding your memory is a customizable experience that you should only evaluate against your own level of cognitive function and ability. The more you practice and exercise your cognitive abilities, the more effectively they can function. Set personal goals or ways to practice these techniques daily.