5 Evidence-based strategies to boost memory and slow cognitive decline

Playing chess can help with memory decline. Picture: Unsplash/ ConvertKit.

Playing chess can help with memory decline. Picture: Unsplash/ ConvertKit.

Published Jan 9, 2024


In a world bustling with activities, deadlines and distractions, it's easy for our memory to take a hit.

Have you ever found yourself struggling to remember an important detail or unable to recall a recent conversation?

If so, you're not alone. Memory decline is a common concern, especially as we age, but understanding its causes and potential solutions can empower us to take control of our cognitive health.

Understanding memory decline

Memory decline can be attributed to a variety of factors, ranging from biological changes in the brain to lifestyle habits.

One key player in age-related memory decline is the gradual loss of nerve cells and the connections between them, also known as synapses.

As we age, our brain volume decreases, and the communication network within the brain may become less efficient.

Furthermore, the build-up of abnormal proteins such as beta-amyloid and tau in the brain can disrupt neural pathways and contribute to memory impairment.

These changes can manifest in the form of forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating and reduced cognitive flexibility.

In addition to ageing, certain medical conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia, can significantly impact memory function.

These conditions involve complex mechanisms that affect the brain's ability to store and retrieve information, leading to progressive memory loss and cognitive decline.

Combatting memory decline: Evidence-based strategies

Learn a foreign language

The listening and hearing involved in learning a new language stimulates the brain.

In addition, being bilingual is associated with a lower risk of developing dementia in one meta-analysis published in October 2020 in the “Psychonomic Bulletin & Review”.

Take a cooking class

Learn how to cook a new cuisine.

Cooking uses several senses — smell, touch, sight, and taste — that involve different parts of the brain.

You will also use cognitive skills like planning the meal, problem-solving, crafting a grocery list, multi-tasking and organising, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Test your recall

Make a list — grocery items, things to do, or anything else that comes to mind — and memorise it.

An hour or so later, see how many items you can recall. Make the list as challenging as possible for the greatest mental stimulation.

A clinical trial study titled “The effects of list-making on recall in young and elderly adults” suggested that writing and organising lists helped older adults recall word lists more effectively.

Listen to or play music

Do you want an easy way to increase your creative brainpower? The answer may lie in turning on some music.

According to a 2017 study, listening to happy tunes helps generate more innovative solutions compared to being in silence.

This means, cranking up some feel-good music can help boost your creative thinking and brain power.

And if you want to learn how to play music, now is a great time to start because your brain is capable of learning new skills at any point in your life.

That’s why you’re never too old to start playing an instrument like the piano, guitar or even the drums, according to Healthline.

Play games

Researchers who conducted a study in 2015 on mentally stimulating activities for adults say a quick card game can lead to greater brain volume in several regions of the brain.

The same study also found that a game of cards could improve memory and thinking skills.

Crazy 8, chess, solitaire and puzzles are among the most recommended by experts.