Older individuals with short-term memory know all too well the challenge of leaving the house for an appointment or lunch with family, but not remembering where they last placed their keys. New studies have shown that there are simple ways to potentially reduce the impact of short-term memory, and that is through mindfulness training.
What Is Mindfulness?
The ability to focus on the present moment while tuning out distractions like relationship or job issues and random memories is what is known as mindfulness. During the mindfulness course in this new study, 79 participants were assigned to either a mindfulness or creative writing course. In the mindfulness program, participants learned to focus on their bodily sensations and breathing and were trained to be able to recognize when their minds were wandering to dismiss those distractions. Before and after the training, participants had to complete a memory test and some were scanned via MRI to look for changes in the volume of their hippocampus – an area of the brain associated with memory. The study found that mindfulness training boosts the density of the hippocampus, a region of the brain that plays a key role in working and long-term memory.
Taking Advantage of the Link Between Mindfulness and Memory
Understanding this link between the growth in hippocampus size and working memory is important as this influences various other cognitive functions in a person – reasoning, comprehension, problem-solving, among many others. You can improve these brain functions through mindful activities like meditation. Other than improving one’s overall cognitive functions, practicing mindfulness is beneficial for treating reduced hippocampal volumes and memory impairment, like post-traumatic stress disorder, aging, and childhood maltreatment.
Activities to Promote Mindfulness and Memory
Practicing mindfulness does not need to take hours a day and can be done anywhere. Here is a list of exercises your elderly loved one can follow:
- Mindful Walking – Find a quiet, secluded path and begin to walk at a slow pace. Keep your mind focused on the experience of taking one foot in front of the other, as well as how you feel as you try to maintain your balance. Be present at the moment and learn to enjoy walking without having a destination.
- Mindful Breathing – Choose a quiet area to lie, stand, or sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Bring awareness to your breath as you repeat the process of inhaling and exhaling, and notice how your body feels as you breathe. When you find your mind wandering, redirect your mind back to the breath.
- Mindful Movement – Practice exercises like yoga, tai chi, or even seated chair stretches to encourage body coordination while relieving stress. You can incorporate the breathing techniques above during these exercises and notice how your body feels after each movement.
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