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What Causes a Poor Working Memory?

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An older adult man with a forgetful-look looking at a calendar.

As we get older, our bodies and minds experience changes that can affect our daily lives in various ways. One common problem among seniors is a decline in working memory, which can lead to difficulties with focus, organization, and completing tasks. 

Poor working memory can be caused by genetics, brain structure, environmental factors, lifestyle choices, stress, and trauma. Whether you are a senior experiencing these struggles or a caregiver looking to help your loved one maintain their cognitive abilities, learning more about working memory can help you understand which steps to take next.

Visit our memory care lifestyle page to learn more about how our staff at Parsons House Preston Hollow help our residents thrive amidst memory issues.

What Is Working Memory?

Simply put, working memory refers to how our brain processes and stores information in the short term. Think of it as a mental workspace where we juggle and manipulate several pieces of data simultaneously. 

Our working memory is essential to virtually every aspect of our lives, from learning new skills to problem-solving to decision-making. The good news is that this capacity is not fixed—we can strengthen it through targeted exercises and consistent practice. 

Causes of Poor Working Memory

Genetics & Brain Structure

While we all have our own unique working memory abilities, some people may struggle more than others due to factors such as genetics and brain structure.

Research has shown that certain genetic variations can impact the size and efficiency of the areas in the brain responsible for working memory. Additionally, people with certain conditions, such as ADHD or dyslexia, can have poorer working memory abilities due to differences in brain structure and function.

Environmental Factors & Lifestyle Choices

In addition to genetics and brain structure, environmental factors can also play a role in the development of working memory.

Environmental factors that can significantly impact the working memory of seniors include:

  • Physical Exercise: There is evidence that physical exercise positively influences the aging brain and can enhance working memory in seniors. 
  • Air Pollution: Environmental factors like air pollution have been associated with cognitive decline in seniors. Exposure to some pollutants may increase a person’s risk of dementia. 
  • Social & Built Environments: The social and built environments in which seniors live can also affect their working memory. Social factors such as neighborhood composition and access to resources may influence cognitive decline.
  • Chemical Exposure: There is some evidence that seniors’ working memory can be influenced by exposure to chemicals.
  • Directed-Attention Fatigue: Environmental factors related to attention fatigue recovery, such as being away from a task, the extent of a distraction, and compatibility, can affect working memory.

Additionally, seniors who experienced chronic stress throughout their lives may be more likely to have difficulty with working memory.

Stress & Trauma

Stress, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and a sedentary lifestyle can all contribute to decreased performance in working memory tasks. Prolonged stress and trauma can also have a negative impact on working memory, as the brain is constantly in a state of heightened activity and may struggle to focus on tasks at hand.

To optimize working memory, it is crucial to address these lifestyle factors. This includes practicing stress-management techniques such as meditation or yoga, getting enough sleep each night, maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet, and incorporating regular physical activity into daily routines. It is also crucial to create an environment that supports concentration and minimizes distractions.

Studies have also shown that engaging in activities that challenge and stimulate the brain, such as learning a new language or musical instrument, can enhance working memory abilities. Our services and amenities, and especially our memory care lifestyle at Parsons House Preston Hollow are designed to help stimulate and support cognitive function. 

An older adult man exercising outdoors.

How Poor Working Memory Can Affect Daily Life

Poor working memory can impact various aspects of our daily lives, from completing simple tasks to managing complex projects. Examples and scenarios of poor working memory include:

  • Difficulty following instructions or multi-step processes
  • Struggling to remember names or faces
  • Losing track of items, such as keys or phones
  • An inability to prioritize tasks and manage time effectively

Tips for Improving Working Memory:

Here are a few valuable tips for improving working memory:

  • Use tools such as reminders, alarms, and lists to help remember important tasks or deadlines.
  • Practice chunking information into smaller, more manageable pieces to improve retention and understanding.
  • Incorporate regular breaks and physical exercise into daily routines to enhance focus and concentration.
  • Use visual aids, such as diagrams or mind maps, to organize thoughts and information in a tangible way.

Brain Training Exercises & Games

There are brain training exercises and games that can specifically target and improve working memory. Some examples include:

  • Memory games such as matching pairs or recalling sequences
  • Sudoku or crossword puzzles
  • Brain teaser challenges that require problem-solving and quick thinking
  • Mindfulness activities, like meditation or deep breathing, to reduce stress and improve focus

Strategies for Organization & Time Management

Staying organized and managing time effectively can also greatly benefit working memory. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Create a daily or weekly schedule and stick to it.
  • Use a planner or calendar to keep track of tasks and deadlines.
  • Break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces.
  • Use technology, such as reminder apps or digital calendars, to stay on top of responsibilities.
  • Keep a clean and clutter-free living space for improved focus and productivity.

Memory Care Support

At Parsons House Preston Hollow, we provide full support for all elements of senior health, including mental, physical, emotional, and cognitive well-being, with services and amenities designed for the needs of seniors, such as memory care and assisted living

Contact us today to learn more about getting specialized care from a community that has been supporting seniors for many years. Come for a tour and see how we make a difference in people’s lives.

Written by Parsons House Preston Hollow

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