If you watch network television for any time at all, you’ve no doubt seen advertisements for a memory supplement “made from jellyfish.” The claims and testimonials in commercials like these sound convincing. You might even suggest that an older relative take the supplement to avoid the dreaded decline that seemingly will occur otherwise.

As with a number of other supposed memory supplements, however, experts have questioned the strength of the evidence for the effectiveness of the product's active ingredient, apoaequorin. Indeed, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has actively sought to have the ads removed.

What else can you do, then, to ensure you maintain your memory? For decades, researchers in the field of cognition and aging have developed non-pharmacological training methods that can easily be adapted to individual use. Many of these follow the “use it or lose it” philosophy, meaning that any exercise is better than none. However, they also add techniques that, if practiced regularly, could build on the simple use-it, lose-it principle.

Recent neuroscience research by the University of Michigan’s Alexandru Iordan and colleagues (2020) is the latest to add to the growing body of evidence of so-called “neuroplasticity” in older adults. The concept of neuroplasticity is an important one in the field of aging, implying that the brain can adapt to age-related changes. Loss in one area of the brain, in other words, can be compensated for by gains in others. The particular model tested by Iordan et al. has the graphic name of “CRUNCH,” which stands for “Compensation Related Utilization of Neural Circuits Hypothesis.” Evidence accumulating in support of CRUNCH indeed suggests that this compensation process happens naturally. The question is whether there are steps you can take to strengthen those neural circuits even more to prevent memory decline as you get older.

The researchers, working with CRUNCH’s developer Patricia Reuter-Lorenz, tested a novel training method that they believed could capitalize on the brain's normal adaptation process to shore up the working memory of older adults. You use your working memory all the time when you either try to learn new information or retrieve information stored somewhere in your long-term memory repository. An easy way to think about working memory is to ask yourself what you’re thinking right now. It’s these thoughts, your waking consciousness, that reside in your working memory.

Read the full article at Psychology Today.