By Kathy Thorpe, MA, CHom, Boulder, Colorado
Do you have problems recalling a name, focusing on a project, organizing information or remembering something you just learned? Do you worry about dementia because you experienced it with one of your parents? A certain amount of memory loss is normal with aging. In fact, 15% of the population in the U.S. over 70 experiences some form of dementia. While some of this is genetic, new research shows that there are important things we can do now to prevent or reverse memory loss.
Use it or Lose it: Keep your mind alert with daily mental activity – every time you learn something new or challenge your mind, you keep those neuro signals active in the brain. Current studies indicate that the brain is “neuroplastic” in the sense that its “circuits” are continuously changing in response to what we do. When we learn new skills, think, remember and perceive, the connections between the brain cells also change and strengthen. So keep using your brain. Choose reading over watching TV, do crossword or Sudoku puzzles, learn a new language, take a dance class, play strategy games such as chess or Bridge or do quilting or knitting. The most important thing is to keep learning new things.
Exercise and Stretch: Physical activity has the largest impact on preventing cognitive decline than anything else. Blood circulation is essential for healthy cognition. Researchers have shown a significant benefit to staying active and encourage people to move every day: walk 2 miles, bike 10 miles, swim, attend an exercise class or engage in some form of regular, vigorous exercise. According to one study, people who did regular, aerobic exercise for at least a year showed enlargement of the hippocampus – the part of the brain that converts short-term memories to long-term ones. Exercise triggers the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus and stimulates the release of “neurotrophic growth factors,” which helps the brain grow and maintain new connections.
Be Social: People who have social contact with family and friends are at lower risk for memory problems. Plus, social interaction involves talking and listening and therefore challenges the brain in unique ways. It also helps ward off stress and depression. So call your friends and family or visit your local community center and sign up for a class or an activity.
Add Quality Nutrition: Keep your brain nourished with vital foods that maintain healthy blood sugar levels and reduce brain inflammation. For years, researchers have known that diet can play a huge part in preventing cognitive decline. Patients with significant dementia made dramatic improvement when they avoided simple carbohydrates and processed foods, increased fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, lean protein, included quality oils and increased their fish intake. It was also found that vitamin B-12, vitamin D-3 and fish oil supplements were beneficial. The omega 3 essential fatty acids in fish oil help protect nerve cell membranes.
Nourish the Brain with the Good Oils: A good deal of new research shows the importance of organic coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil to prevent age-related memory loss, dementia and even halt the progression of Alzheimer’s. These oils improve brain chemistry, cognitive function and reduce oxidative stress that destroys brain cells. Add a tablespoon of coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil to your breakfast and dinner—and notice how much better you start feeling.
Don’t forget magnesium: A certain type of magnesium, Magtein (magnesium l-threonate) is able to cross the blood brain barrier and increase learning ability as well as improve short and long-term memory. It increases synaptic connections in the hippocampus that controls memory and also helps reduce anxiety and fear. It has also been shown to prevent cognitive decline in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and improve memory even in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The dosage is one gram twice a day for these beneficial results.
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine: Acupuncturist David Scrimgeour, L.Ac., in Boulder, Colorado uses acupuncture and Chinese medicine to support and nourish brain function. Adrenal deficiency, inflammation of the GI system and disturbed Shen (or mind in Chinese medicine) all contribute to loss of short and long-term memory and impairment of the ability to amass wisdom, think clearly and perceive things creatively. In addition to using acupuncture to address these imbalances, Scrimgeour recommends the tonic formula, Supreme Immune Tonic to support adrenal, brain and immune functions in the body.
If you are among the many people who are starting to notice subtle signs of memory loss, start incorporating the above suggestions into your health regime. And don’t wait until your golden years to make these changes in your life. Start now so you can continue to be the wise, clever, witty and intelligent person that you are – no matter how old you are.