Are you worried about your memory? Do you forget words during conversations, important items on your to-do list, or why you even came into a room in the first place? An incredible seventy-five percent of women 40 and older agonize over their memory because of these sorts of events.
As a neurologist, I spend much of the day reassuring patients that their forgetfulness is not Alzheimer’s disease. Actually, I see this kind of fear as a good sign because it means the patient is aware of the problem and is probably ready to do something about it.
While some forgetfulness is common as you get older, you can actually stave off many memory issues so you feel sharper and more in control now, while you protect your brain for the future.
See a healthcare practitioner if you are:
1. Forgetting family members’ names.
2. Regularly repeating yourself.
3. Getting lost while driving in familiar territory.
4. Not recognizing you have become overly forgetful, when family and friends are aware of it.
If you misplace your keys or can’t remember an obscure name, your forgetfulness probably isn’t a predictor of serious dysfunction or illness.
What’s causing your mild memory loss?
Ongoing memory concerns, even when they’re “minor,” will certainly interfere with your daily life. Worse, they often affect those closest to you — co-workers, friends and family — who must manage the fallout of your forgetfulness. Even minor memory issues can strain the strongest and most loving relationships.
Are any of these memory complaints familiar to you?
- Poor recall of names and/or words
- Fuzzy thinking
- Feeling “spacy”
- Inability to concentrate
- Misattribution — or “mis-remembering” — known in many families as “revisionist history”
- General forgetfulness
The stress inflicted by mental pressure and tension can cause you to forget basic information, and even words you use every day. General stress (physical or psychological) can also disrupt memory. Studies shows that elevated corticosteroid, or stress hormone, levels in older people are associated with cognitive decline.
Certain major medical conditions, such as hypo- or hyperthyroidism, heart failure, or liver impairment can affect memory. Milder issues can often be traced to non-physical changes, including depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol use, toxin exposure and sleep problems.
Menopause and memory changes — is there a connection?
During perimenopause and menopause, women often notice distressing memory issues and fuzzy thinking, and we hear from a lot of them who want help. These cognitive concerns add to a woman’s stress burden and can exacerbate an already difficult menopause experience.
There is evidence that falling estrogen levels during perimenopause and menopause are connected to higher risk for memory and cognitive changes. Poor nutrition is an important factor. Deficiencies in key B vitamins, specifically folate, B12 and B6, as well as vitamin D, are linked to cognitive impairment, especially as you get older.
Being proactive about improving your memory during menopause can bolster your confidence, and your well-being. Pursuing natural relief for other menopause symptoms can make a huge difference and may help you feel calmer, which helps with memory too.
When it comes to hormonal issues and nutrient insufficiencies, you can actually make a lot of worthwhile improvements. The brain is far more resilient and “plastic” than previously thought and it can and will respond to certain key changes. In fact, new research shows that your brain continues to develop over your entire life as it absorbs information from the outside world.
How to have a better memory: my prescription
If you’re having recall issues, or are worried about preserving your memory and mental sharpness for the long haul, you can follow the exact same basic prescription I give all my patients. Pick at least two of these recommendations to get started:
1. Take targeted supplementation with brain-healthy nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamin D, and curcumin from turmeric, a spice used in Indian cooking. New discoveries with clear scientific evidence include the antioxidant quercetin, and green tea leaf extract. My own Memory Solutions contains all these key ingredients and others shown to support and enhance your memory. Can a supplement really improve memory? Yes! Supplementing is especially effective when you add it to a diet of brain-friendly foods.
2. Eat a Mediterranean diet with whole grains, plenty of vegetables, fruit and fish — and consume less meat and dairy products. Olive oil is a healthy component of this style of eating and is easily substituted for butter.
3. Make exercise and creative pursuits become part of your lifestyle — these two activities even support each other. Allow at least 30 minutes for exercise 3-4 times a week and choose something you love. And remember that creativity isn’t just about making art or music. Every time you push yourself to solve a problem, motivate a co-worker, cook a new meal, or simply “think outside of the box,” you’re tapping into your own creative reserves, so do it as much as you can.
4. Let go of stress in your life and try deep breathing techniques and meditation. I steer my most anxious patients to the awesome book, The Relaxation Response, by Herbert Benson, MD — it’s a very effective how-to guide.
5. Use it or lose it — flex your brain by learning a new language, taking a class, or signing up for music lessons — this sort of stimulation is good for your brain, and your body. Choose something that fits your style, especially if it’s a lifelong dream. Now’s the time!
Together these components can make an exponential difference in how you feel about your memory. Just the diet alone can lead to better brain function, lower rates of mental decline and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. And exercising regularly is linked to creative thinking and improved brain health and cognition.
Staying sharp and having a better memory mean ensuring that your brain has what it needs to thrive and work its magic all day long. You can have a better memory when you take care of your brain, and try to have a little fun while you’re doing it.
1. Vestergren , P, P. Perceived Causes of Everyday Memory Problems in a Population-based Sample Aged 39-99. Appl. Cognit. Psychol. 25: 641-646 (2011)
2. Karlamangla AS, Singer BH, Chodosh J, et al; Urinary cortisol excretion as a predictor of incident cognitive impairment.; Neurobiol Aging. 2005 Dec;26 Suppl 1:80-4. Epub 2005 Nov 8.
3. Lebrun CE, van der Schouw YT, de Jong FH, et al; Endogenous oestrogens are related to cognition in healthy elderly women.; Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2005 Jul;63(1):50-5.