Last week, Dr. Andrew Budson parked his car at Logan Airport. As he walked away, he pictured three cats sitting atop the roof of the vehicle — three to represent the third floor and cats for row C.
The mental image would later help him remember that he parked his car on the third floor in row C of the expansive parking garage.
It’s just one of the tips he shared during a talk Thursday afternoon at The Branches, which was holding “A Day of Connections” to show different ways seniors can stay healthy.
The author of “Seven Steps to Managing Your Memory” and associate director and education core leader at Boston University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Budson believes a healthy lifestyle and early intervention can help turn back the clock on an aging memory, even for those with dementia.
“People ask me all the time if there is a magic pill they can take to help their memory,” he said. “And there is: exercise.”
While diseases like Alzheimer’s damage and destroy vital brain cells, a good amount of exercise can enhance their growth. Studies have even shown that exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that stores short-term memories, he said.
Budson recommends 30 minutes of aerobic exercise — which is anything that gets your heart pumping — five days a week. Those workouts can be as simple as going for a brisk walk or playing tennis with friends.
He also suggested two hours a week of strength, balance and flexibility training, with exercises such as yoga or Pilates.
Exercise also serves as an antidepressant and helps people sleep better. More sleep, he said, is critical to memory, as the harmful proteins called beta amyloids are cleaned out during sleep.
Diet plays an important role as well. Budson said studies have shown a Mediterranean diet, which focuses on fish, nuts, beans, fruits and whole grains, is best for your brain.
Some will be happy to know that dark chocolate is also good for memory and mood, he said, adding a small piece each day is more beneficial than harmful.
Recognizing and treating the signs early on can roll back the memory clock a few years as well, he said.
Much of the general public is unsure about which signs of memory loss actually point toward dementia or Alzheimer’s, since it is normal for the memory to weaken as people age.
Just because someone forgets where they put their keys every other day, doesn’t mean they have dementia, especially if they’ve been losing their keys most of their life, Budson said.
A sure sign of dementia would be a change from normal behavior, he said. Someone who has been good with names their whole life and suddenly has trouble remembering the name of a friend from church is experiencing rapid forgetting, which is never normal.