At the 2012 USA Memory Championship, memory athletes rack their brains trying to memorize pages of names and faces, a shuffled deck of cards and random numbers.
Defending champion Nelson Dellis broke his own U.S. record by memorizing 303 digits in five minutes. But Dellis admits he's no natural
"Naturally, I have a pretty poor memory," he said.
This cognitive competitor, who climbs mountains to raise money for Alzheimer's research in honor of his late grandmother, has trained his brain to win. The 27-year-old believes it will be beneficial when his memory starts to go.
New research shows at just 45 years old, our brain power, things like memory, comprehensive skills and reasoning, can start declining. Neurologist Dr. Paul Schulz is not surprised by the findings.
"Starting at around the age of 20, people's attention span and memory peaks," said Schulz, an associate professor director of the Memory Disorders and Dementia Clinic.
He says by age 80, normal people have lost 40 percent of their memory, but there are things you can do to fight it.
First, focus on focusing. Try word games or Sudoku, learn a new language, read books and magazines and discuss them with others.
"It turns out that even focusing on a complicated TV show or a movie and then talking about it is a way of improving your attention span as well," said Schulz.
Schulz says doing things to prevent heart attack and stroke like lowering blood pressure and controlling cholesterol can also significantly reduce your risk of dementia and Alzheimer's.
"It makes a huge difference in terms of your risk of having worse cognition as you get older," Schulz said.
Also, don't forget to feed your brain. A recent study found college students who ate two ounces of walnuts daily, which amounts to about 28 walnut halves, improved reasoning skills. Carrots, celery and green peppers are rich in luteolin, which can help protect you from dementia, and new research shows antioxidants in foods such as berries can keep your memory sharp.
Meanwhile, studies are mixed on the brain-boosting abilities of the omega-three fatty acid, DHA, which are found in fish like salmon and in algae. Dellis swears by the supplement.
"I take those every day religiously, and I definitely feel a lot sharper when I'm eating better and taking these types of supplements," Dellis said.
All of that may have helped him win his second memory championship in two years - a memory he will never forget.