Are You Forgetting… Your Memory?
We all forget. As we get older most of the fleeting memory problems we experience are simply normal changes in the structure and function of the brain. These changes slow certain cognitive processes making it harder to learn new things or juggle multiple tasks.
Do your memory lapses happen often enough to be an annoyance, or to even worry you?
A recent survey says one in eight baby boomers has memory lapses at least once in a while. And whether you’ve forgotten where you put the car keys or your neighbors’ name, it’s unnerving to say the least.
The specter of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia looms large in our minds and is scary to contemplate.
The purpose of this article is to put your mind at ease.
Physical Causes Of Forgetfulness
Not all memory mishaps are caused by Alzheimer’s. There are numerous mundane and treatable causes of forgetfulness.
◊ Underactive thyroid – A faltering thyroid can affect memory (as well as disturb sleep and cause depression, both of which contribute to memory slips). A simple blood test can tell if your thyroid is doing its job properly.
◊ Stress and anxiety – Anything that makes it harder to concentrate and lock in new information and skills can lead to memory problems. Stress and anxiety fit the bill. Both can interfere with attention and block the formation of new memories or the retrieval of old ones.
◊ Depression – Common signs of depression include a stifling sadness, lack of drive, and lessening of pleasure in things you ordinarily enjoy. Forgetfulness can be both a sign and consequence of depression.
◊ High Blood Sugar Levels – Get your blood sugar level in check! Slightly raised sugar levels, even if you don’t have diabetes or prediabetes, will affect your memory. Excess blood glucose causes inflammation, which damages brain cells.
◊ Adequate Magnesium – This mineral ensures strong links between your brain cells, so you have a big network ready to solve problems –and remember where your car keys are. Most of us fall short of the recommended 420 milligrams daily. Turn to brown rice, almonds, hazelnuts, spinach, shredded wheat, lima beans, and bananas to boost your magnesium intake.
◊ Have Your Vitamin D3 Level Checked – Vitamin D3 can protect your DNA. Shortchanging yourself could leave your brain cells vulnerable to damage from free radicals (rogue oxygen molecules that attack DNA). Aim for 5,000IU daily from a D3 supplement.
◊ Sleep Well – Good sleep is like a nightly clean-up. While you snooze, your brain’s busy taking out the trash. A new lab report reveals that during sleep, the brain may turn on its “self-clean” function. This newly-discovered process may help explain why most of us need eight hours of sleep nightly for optimal learning, problem-solving, and recall.
◊ Probiotics – Take at least 1.2 Billion CFU of probiotics daily and 4 strains of lactobacillus. The beneficial effects of good bacteria in your gut includes the production of vital neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Probiotics are found in unpasteurized fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi.
◊ Lack of sleep. Not getting enough sleep is perhaps the greatest unappreciated cause of memory slips. Too little restful sleep can also lead to mood changes and anxiety, which in turn contribute to problems with memory.
Chemical Influences On Memory
One chemical that can affect your memory is one we don’t think of as a “chemical” in a negative sense – Alcohol.
Drinking too much alcohol can interfere with short-term memory, even after the effects of alcohol have worn off. Although “too much” varies from person to person, it’s best to stick with the recommendation of no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one a day for women. One drink is generally defined as 1.5 ounces (1 shot glass) of 80-proof spirits, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer.
Medications, such as tranquilizers, antidepressants, some blood pressure drugs, and other medications can affect memory, usually by causing sedation or confusion. This can make it difficult to pay close attention to new things.
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you suspect a new medication is taking the edge off your memory. As shown in the table below, alternatives are usually available.Download a Printable Chart
|Medications That May Affect Memory And Possible Substitutes|
|If you take these drugs…||… ask about switching to one of these drugs|
|paroxetine (Paxil)||another antidepressant such as fluoxetine (Prozac) or sertraline (Zoloft), or a different type of antidepressant such as duloxetine (Cymbalta) or venlafaxine (Effexor)|
|cimetidine (Tagamet)||a different type of heartburn drug, such as lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec), or esomeprazole (Nexium)|
|oxybutynin (Ditropan) or tolterodine (Detrol, Detrusitol)||other medications for an overactive bladder, such as trospium (Sanctura), solifenacin (Vesicare), or darifenacin (Enablex)|
|amitriptyline (Elavil), desipramine (Norpramin), or nortriptyline (Aventyl, Pamelor)||another type of medication, depending on why your doctor has prescribed a tricyclic antidepressant (neuropathic pain, depression, etc.)|
|captopril (Capoten)||a different type of ACE inhibitor, such as enalapril, lisinopril, or ramipril|
|cold or allergy medication containing brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine, or diphenhydramine||loratadine (Claritin) or other non-sedating antihistamine|
(Adapted from Improving Memory: Understanding age-related memory loss, a Harvard Medical School Special Health Report)
Nutrition and Memory
Your nutrition also contributes to your memory health. It is one way to reverse or prevent forgetfulness that has benefits for your entire body!
Here are 14 brain foods that may help preserve your memory.
1. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts such as walnuts, almonds, and peanuts, as well as sunflower and pumpkin seeds, are brain foods high in protein and omega fatty acids. Protein is the second largest matter in the brain, second only to water, so it is important to nourish your brain with protein rich foods. Proteins help neurons within the brain communicate with each other through neurotransmitters made from amino acids.
Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are essential fats that our bodies do not make, but that we need to consume. They aid in building cells to maintain normal brain function, as well as helping with storage of new memories through the creation of synapses or connections, within the brain.
2. Salmon and oily fish
Oily fish, such as salmon, are high in omega 3, and in particular DHA, a building block of the brain that improves brain function.
A higher omega 3 intake has been shown to improve the memory of Alzheimer’s patients.
Beans are rich in fiber, B vitamins and omega fatty acids. Fiber helps keep you fuller longer and creates a gradual release of sugar, keeping your blood sugar on an even keel. This stable blood sugar helps concentration and memory so you can keep a steady work flow throughout the day.
B vitamins help convert a chemical compound, homocysteine, into other important brain chemicals like acetylcholine, which aids in creating new memories.
Blueberries and other dark berries are rich in antioxidants, which protect against free radicals. This makes them one powerful brain food! They also help fight against degenerative changes in the brain and enhance neural functioning and communication.
5. Dark and leafy greens
Greens such as kale, spinach and broccoli are high in vitamin E, as well as folate. Vitamin E helps protect cell membranes against free radicals. The folate found in dark greens also helps with normal brain development.
6. Lean Red Meat
Lean red meats, such as sirloin steak, are high in iron. Iron aids in the production of neurotransmitters and helps blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body, including the brain. Getting sufficient oxygen aids in attention, concentration, and learning.
Life-long learning is important, as mental stimulation has been shown to ward off Alzheimer’s.
While they may seem sinfully rich and creamy, avocados are filled with omega fatty acids and vitamin E. Omega fatty acids are essential for cell growth and brain development, and vitamin E helps protect cell membranes from free radicals. Vitamin E’s protection may also slow progression of degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, as it maintains and repairs cells within the brain.
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, which is an antioxidant. Lycopene regulates genes that influence inflammation and regulate cell growth within the brain.
9. Whole Grains
Whole grains contain complex carbohydrates, omega 3s, and B vitamins that all support normal brain function. The complex carbs provide a steady supply of energy to regulate mood and behavior, as well as aid in learning and memory.
10. Red Cabbage
Red cabbage is antioxidant rich. These antioxidants help guard against free radicals that attack your DNA, proteins and carbohydrates within the body. Some say free radicals are what leads to aging and may even be a contributor to Alzheimer’s disease.
Brown rice is full of B-vitamins, which help convert homocysteine, an amino acid, into important brain chemicals used for learning and creating new memories.
12. Green Tea
Green tea is packed full of antioxidants that help protect against free radicals. Free radicals are unstable, reactive molecules that attack your body’s cells.
13. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is not only delicious, but it is packed full of antioxidants! These antioxidants also support the learning and cognitive functions of the brain, which could delay the effects of Alzheimer’s.
Quinoa is high in complex carbs, iron and B vitamins. The brain uses up 20 percent of consumed carbohydrates which is a lot for being just 2 percent of your body mass!
When to See Your Physician About Your Forgetfulness
If you’re concerned that you have a serious memory problem, talk with your doctor. He or she may be able to diagnose the problem or refer you to a specialist, such as a neurologist or geriatric psychiatrist.
What to bring to a visit for memory loss
1. A list of symptoms, when they began, and how frequently they occur, documented in the form of a journal or care logs. Be as specific as possible.
2. Take a list of past and current medical problems. Tell your doctor if other family members had illnesses that caused memory problems.
3. Take all medications, both over-the-counter (vitamins, aspirin) and prescription, to the visit.
4. Answer the doctor’s questions honestly and to the best of your ability.
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