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WHILE age may bring a decline in efficiency in learning new information and forgetting may be frustrating, you don’t have to resign yourself to it as a part of old age, since many parts of the brain generally remain untouched, says the February 2015 issue of the Mayo Clinic Health Letter.

As we age, many parts of the brain are unaffected by the changes of aging - including areas associated with language, meaning, creativity and wisdom.

Also, age has little effect on habit-based (procedural) memory, which stores skills developed by repetition and practice - like riding a bike, adds the health letter.

To sharpen everyday memory and speed up information processing, you can capitalize on procedural memory skills, such as insight and experience, which can only be acquired over time and best achieved if you:

• Keep a calendar - Each day, as you are bombarded with information coming from all directions - names, numbers, to-do lists, passwords - too many details to remember can actually make you more prone to memory lapses.

In order to help you keep extraneous information readily available and free up brain space for more important tasks, a variety of tools - such as, paper calendars, notebooks and applications (apps) for smartphones, tablets and computers - can help you organize and remember appointments and tasks.

The most important thing is to pick one and use it regularly where it becomes a habit - this is how procedural memory can make up for faulty recent memory, says the health letter.

• Organize the clutter - a) To help minimize distractions and improve memory, keep your environment clutter-free and relatively organized - for example, make a habit of always returning your keys and handbag to a designated place, making it simple to find it later; and b) To prevent unpaid bills and missed appointments, stay on top of the endless stream of mail and paper that enters the home - put correspondence in order by creating different folders or places for information that:

1) Requires a response or action, such as bills or invitations

2) You need to consult occasionally, such as bank statements or insurance policies

3) You read at your leisure, such as magazines and catalogs

• Focus your attention - Attention is an important part of memory processing - it takes concentration to input information into your brain so that it can be stored and retrieved properly: The hippocampus sends memories to be stored in different sections of the brain and then recalls them when necessary. a) Slow down and focus on the task at hand. b) Use your senses - sight, hearing, touch and smell - to tune in to the present. c) Minimize distractions in order to provide your individual attention to a person or project.

• Cross-train your brain - Early research suggests that brain-training programs may improve aspects of memory, mental processing speed and ability to perform everyday activities - just as you might exercise your body to gain physical strength.

There is a wide range of available online brain-training programs, computer software programs and smartphone apps with scientific merits of varying price points - these programs run you through various exercises, often on a timer, that gradually ramp up the level of difficulty so that your brain is continually challenged.

Other forms of mental engagement that seem to help avoid decline include: a) engaging in mentally stimulating games - such as bridge or chess; b) doing more complex crafts or reading; c) challenging yourself and targeting a range of skills - such as, working jigsaw puzzles to sharpen spatial relationship skills and playing a fast-paced card game, such as speed or slapstick, with your grandchild to speed mental processing speed.

• Try new things - Studies show that older adults learn new skills as well as do younger adults - while younger adults may mentally process faster, older adults can apply more wisdom and experience.

Thus, as you age: Stay curious, take a class, explore a new city, try new tools or use technology - have fun with new adventures, and if they don’t go exactly as planned, relax; since you’re still achieving your goal because your mind will be busy creating new brain cell connections.

• Exercise - Studies show that individuals who are physically active are less likely to experience a decline in mental function and have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, the health letter concludes.

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