You can’t stop it — the natural aging process that ages not only our bodies, but our brains, too. Normal aging doesn’t significantly impact our thinking, however. Most people do not suffer from significant memory problems, deficits in problem-solving, or issues with thinking through activities that require analysis and reasoning.
Still, things that may have come to us quickly when we were younger may take a little bit more time as we get older. And these slow-downs come not only in memory, but in something that psychologists call executive function, too.
According to information provided by The Harvard Health Letter,
Executive function is an umbrella term for the complex thinking required to make choices, plan, initiate action, and inhibit impulses. Executive function may affect everything from walking speed (at least in the elderly) and attention span to friendships and family ties. As we age, executive function may be more important than many kinds of memory for the tasks needed to live independently.
The good news is that the do’s and don’ts of preserving executive function include many of the common precepts for staying healthy overall. The executive function to-do list includes exercise — older minds benefit enormously from busier bodies. High blood pressure harms both memory and executive function, and lack of sleep often scrambles executive function.
The Harvard Health Letter offers some tips for maintaining memory and executive function:
- Pay attention. Remind yourself to focus. As you age, new information doesn’t get into your memory banks as easily as when you were young.
- Say it out loud. As you make a plan or put something away, saying it out loud encourages you to pause and pay attention to what you are doing.
- Make it a habit. Put keys and other personal items in the same place so you don’t have to use executive function to figure out where to find them.
The article goes into some depth about recent research that’s looked into how the brain ages. It’s an interesting read and concludes with providing some specific strategies a person can take to help keep their brain’s executive functioning, well, functioning!
Read the full article, courtesy of the March 2010 issue of the Harvard Health Letter: Cultivating Your Inner Boss
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Mar 2010
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Grohol, J. (2010). Maintain Your Memory as You Age. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 9, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/03/12/maintain-your-memory-as-you-age/