How to Improve Working Memory and Mental Performance as You Age
As we age, it’s natural for our cognitive abilities to shift. One of the most noticeable areas is in our working memory.
Working memory enables us to carry out complex cognitive tasks. However, its limited capacity means we can only hold a certain amount of information at any given moment.
The good news is we can adopt various strategies and techniques to enhance our working memory and maintain optimal mental performance as we age.
Let’s explore effective methods on how to improve working memory, boost cognitive abilities, and stay sharp. While we cannot control time and aging, we can control the daily habits and activities we decide to pursue.
The medical team at Aviv Clinics is here to get you on track for the journey. Join us for the ride.
What Is Working Memory?
Working memory is a cognitive system that allows us to temporarily hold and manipulate information while performing mental tasks. It plays a crucial role in various cognitive processes, including:
- Language comprehension
Working memory is often seen as the “workspace” of the brain, where information is actively processed and manipulated.
You can think of it as a “sticky note” — your brain holds new information in place so that it can link those details to other information.
4 Main Components of Working Memory
Working memory has four key components:
1. Central Executive
The central executive is the control center of working memory.
- Allocates attention to different tasks
- Coordinates the interaction between the various components
- Decides how to process and manipulate incoming information
- Plays a critical role in directing attention and managing cognitive resources
Example: You are going for a morning run when your phone rings. You engage in the conversation; the central executive helps you focus on the road ahead more than the conversation.
2. Phonological Loop
The phonological loop is responsible for processing and temporarily storing auditory and verbal information. It is divided into two subcomponents:
- The phonological store (where sounds and speech-based information are held for a few seconds)
- The articulatory rehearsal process (which silently rehearses verbal information to prevent it from decaying).
Example: Continuously repeating an address or phone number aloud to help you remember the information.
3. Visuospatial Sketchpad
The visuospatial sketchpad handles visual and spatial information. It allows us to:
- Mentally visualize objects, scenes, and spatial relationships
- Solve visual and spatial problems, supporting activities like mental imagery and navigation
Example: When you are walking around in the dark, your visuospatial sketchpad pulls up a visual image of your home. This helps you avoid bumping into the table.
4. Episodic Buffer
The episodic buffer is a relatively new addition to the working memory model. It serves as a temporary storage system that integrates information from different sources, combining visual, auditory, and spatial information.
The episodic buffer links working memory with long-term memory. This facilitates a cohesive mental representation of events or experiences.
Example: The episodic buffer can also help you associate specific buildings with locations, which helps you remember a route.
What Happens to Your Working Memory as You Age?
As we age, the brain undergoes structural and functional changes that can affect working memory processes:
- The prefrontal cortex, responsible for working memory, experiences a decline in volume and connectivity.
- Neurotransmitter systems essential for working memory, such as dopamine (a chemical messenger that allows you to feel pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation), may decrease with age.
- Oxidative stress and cellular damage can impair neuronal function (the ability to carry information between brain cells).
- Vascular system shifts can limit the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to brain regions involved in working memory.
12 Cognitive Exercises to Enhance and Preserve Your Working Memory
Cognitive exercises specifically designed to target and preserve working memory can be valuable in enhancing your mental performance.
Here are 12 effective exercises you can try:
- N-Back Training: N-Back is a popular working memory exercise where you recall a sequence of stimuli. Start with a 2-back task, where you identify if the current stimulus matches the one presented two steps back in the sequence. As you improve, increase the difficulty to 3-back, 4-back, and so on.
- Dual N-Back: This exercise combines the N-Back task with a second task, such as tracking visual or auditory patterns while remembering the sequence of stimuli.
- Digit Span Test: Listen to a series of digits and try to repeat them in the correct order. Increase the length of the digit sequence as you improve.
- Letter-Number Sequencing: Given a mixed sequence of letters and numbers, repeat the numbers in ascending order and then the letters in alphabetical order.
- Spatial Memory Games: Play memory games that involve remembering the location of objects on a grid or in a scene.
- Card Pairs Game: Play a classic card matching game where you need to remember the positions of cards and match pairs.
- Sudoku: Solve Sudoku puzzles to challenge your working memory and concentration.
- Chess or Strategy Games: Engage in chess or other strategy games that require you to plan ahead and remember previous moves.
- Dual Tasking: Combine different tasks, such as listening to an audiobook while doing household chores. This exercise challenges your ability to multitask while still retaining important information.
- Recite Backwards: Try to recite strings of numbers or letters backward. This exercise requires active manipulation of information in your working memory.
- Memory Palace Technique: Practice the memory palace technique, also known as the method of loci, to remember lists of items by associating them with specific locations in your mind.
- Verbal Memory Exercises: Read a paragraph or a short passage and then try to recall the key points or details without looking back.
Remember to start with exercises that match your current skill level and gradually increase the difficulty as you progress. Consistency is essential, so incorporate these exercises into your daily or weekly routine.
Unique Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) Protocol can Improve Memory Function
In addition to diet, quality sleep, and physical and cognitive exercises, scientific research shows that a specific hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) protocol can improve memory function.
Participants in the study who received the HBOT process, which involved fluctuating oxygen levels according to evidence-backed research, exhibited:
- Better learning curves
- Higher memory resilience
Clarissa Defeats Memory Decline with Aviv Clinics
Rodeo roping and penning champion Clarissa Rainey sustained multiple concussions on horseback, then received an additional concussion in a car accident. She experienced memory loss, which made navigating the ins and outs of her career challenging. For example, tracking the numbers on her horses was difficult. As a real estate agent, she struggled to remember house numbers and addresses, which made her frustrated when doing her job.
Fortunately, she was introduced to Aviv Clinics. Learn about her story.
Take Proactive Measures for Brain Performance
As we age, it is crucial to prioritize the health of our working memory and cognitive abilities. While biological changes can affect working memory, the brain retains plasticity. Proactive measures can be taken to improve and maintain working memory and overall cognitive function.
Learn more about enhancing your performance with Aviv Clinics.