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How to Prevent Memory Loss in Old Age: 8 Lifestyle Tips to Improve Memory

5 minute readLast updated August 12, 2021
Written by Angelike Gaunt

Can’t find your keys? Not sure where you put your glasses? Most people have been there — occasional memory lapses are normal. But memory loss that affects your senior loved one’s quality of life and their ability to live independently may be a sign of a serious medical condition.

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Age, genetics, and other factors can increase someone’s risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But research shows that certain steps can help lower the risk of memory loss associated with these cognitive conditions. Read on to learn how to avoid memory loss and improve memory through simple lifestyle changes.

What causes memory loss?

Many things can cause memory loss. Age is a key factor as the normal aging process causes a slight decline in brain function. As someone ages, connections between brain cells that store and transfer information are weakened, affecting recall.

Cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia are progressive conditions that cause severe memory loss over time. Many factors can increase your loved one’s risk of dementia, including age, family history, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking.

About 10% of people who have a stroke and nearly one-third of those who have a second stroke develop dementia. Heart disease and fat buildup in the arteries also contribute to cognitive decline and dementia.

Other causes of temporary memory loss in elderly adults may include adverse reactions to medications, infections, vitamin B-12 deficiency, depression, and excessive alcohol consumption.

Memory loss: What’s normal?

Occasional forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. Examples of memory loss that come with age include forgetting to pay a bill one month or occasionally losing track of the date or day of the week. However, memory loss that affects your ability to do everyday activities can be a sign of a serious problem.

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What helps prevent memory loss?

Staying mentally, physically, and socially active may lower the risk of memory loss, according to the National Institute on Aging. Although you can’t change your parent’s age or family history, you can encourage them to make lifestyle changes that may help prevent memory loss or improve memory.

Live a heart-healthy lifestyle. As the leading cause of death in America, heart disease is the target of a formidable battle. However, risk factors such as smoking and eating a poor diet are under an individual’s control. A heart-healthy lifestyle also lowers your risk of developing memory loss, particularly vascular dementia.

Stay physically active. Exercise helps lower your likelihood of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke — all risk factors for cognitive and memory disorders. Encourage your parent to try low-impact exercises such as yoga, tai chi, or even a walk around the block to help improve blood flow to the brain and keep their mind sharp.

Eat a healthy diet. A diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains can help your brain and heart health. Eating healthy can stave off conditions that contribute to cognitive decline, such as diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. Some brain-healthy foods that may have cognitive benefits include leafy green vegetables, berries, whole grains, fish, lean poultry, beans, and olive oil.

Keep your mind engaged. It’s always a good idea to exercise our minds through games, such as Scrabble, or insightful reading. Good conversation and fun don’t hurt, either. Reading, learning something new, doing crossword puzzles, or playing games can help keep the mind active. Stimulating the mind may help prevent memory loss by enhancing connections between cells in the brain that support memory.

Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Controlling blood pressure when it’s high can help lower your risk of memory-related conditions.

Stay social. Social isolation in seniors can be both a symptom of and a risk factor for dementia. Staying connected with others helps lower stress and prevent depression, which can contribute to memory loss. Help prevent loneliness by encouraging your aging loved one to take up a hobby, seek volunteer opportunities, or join a club or religious community. Senior living communities help keep residents social and engaged by offering many opportunities for activities and outings that appeal to all lifestyles and tastes.

Get enough sleep. Sleep helps your brain rest and restore. It also helps to consolidate your memories. Persistent sleep problems have been associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia. If your loved one regularly has sleep problems, talk to their doctor about strategies to help improve sleep.

Quit smoking. Smoking can lead to several long-term health problems, but did you know that people who smoke are also at increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s? Talk to your loved one’s doctor about how to help them quit smoking for improved overall health.

Drink alcohol only in moderation. There’s some evidence that, when combined with a healthy diet, a glass of red wine a day may have beneficial effects in terms of reducing inflammation and even lowering the risk of memory disorders. However, drinking more than four drinks on any day for men and more than three drinks on any day for women is considered excessive, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. If your loved one drinks alcohol, it’s important they do so in moderation.

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Merck Manual.“Memory loss.”

National Institute on Aging.“Brain health.”

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.“Drinking Levels Defined.”

National Institutes of Health.“Modifiable Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease.”

UpToDate. “Risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia.”

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Meet the Author
Angelike Gaunt

Angelike Gaunt is the Director of Editorial Content Strategy at A Place for Mom. She’s developed health content for consumers and medical professionals at major health care organizations, including Mayo Clinic, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the University of Kansas Health System. She’s passionate about developing accessible content to simplify complex health topics.

The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom and the reader. Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter, and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site. Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

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