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Help for Your Memory

  • Tackling Memory Problems and Forgetfulness

  • Have you had a “senior moment” lately? The good news is that while a certain degree of memory loss is an inevitable result of the aging process, healthy habits can help you improve and maintain your memory health.

    “It’s natural to experience some memory loss as we age,” says Jacqueline Chan, MD, PhD, a neurologist at Sutter Gould Medical Foundation's Tracy Care Center and Stockton Medical Plaza. “It is normal to experience short-term forgetfulness, such as the inability to remember the name of a person who you met recently. However, memory loss should not affect your daily functioning or ability to live independently.”

    As the body ages, so does the brain, Dr. Chan explains.

    “The brain begins aging in your 20s and continues throughout older age. As we get older, we experience a gradual loss of the brain cells. The body also gradually produces less of the chemicals that enable the brain to function efficiently. This affects the way we store and retrieve information.”

    The most common form of memory loss is short-term memory loss, which involves difficulty remembering details of recent events and a diminished ability to learn. Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive and fatal brain disease that is the most common form of dementia, is not a normal part of aging.

    “With normal, age-related memory loss, you may forget part of an experience,” Dr. Chan explains. “People with Alzheimer’s will forget the whole experience.”

    Signs of Alzheimer’s can include memory changes that disrupt daily life, difficulty in solving problems, difficulty completing familiar tasks, confusion of time or place and problems understanding visual imaging. Other signals are difficulty with words, misplacing things and losing ability to retrieve them, decreasing judgment, withdrawal from social activities, and changing personality.

    Factors associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease include age, family history, genetics, head injuries, and conditions that damage the heart or blood vessels, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high cholesterol. While there is no cure, certain medications can help delay its progression.

    Certain strategies for healthy aging can help you maintain brain health and protect against Alzheimer’s and related diseases.

    To keep your brain sharp and maintain your memory, Dr. Chan recommends:

    • Control diabetes and hypertension.
    • Eat healthfully: manage your body weight, reduce your consumption of foods high in fat and cholesterol, and increase your intake of protective foods. “Eat a diet rich in antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids, such as vegetables and fruits, tea, coffee, chocolate, coldwater fish, freshly ground flax seeds and walnuts,” Dr. Chan says. “A diet that’s high in Omega-6 nutrients, folate and vitamin E and low in saturated fat is associated with a 42 percent reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s.”
    • Keep cholesterol low. High cholesterol early in life is linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
    • Participate in mentally stimulating activities like reading, writing, working crossword puzzles and mind games, playing card games, participating in group discussions and playing music. “Older people who participate in activities that keep their brains sharp may delay the onset of memory decline,” Dr. Chan explains.
    • Become physically active. “Physical exercise is correlated with better mental function,” Dr. Chan says.
    • Be socially active. One study found that a combination of sports, cultural activities, emotional support and close personal relationships increases the protection against dementia.
    • If you’re already experiencing age-related memory problems, use lists and create a daily routine to decrease the effects of forgetfulness.

    “Many things can cause memory issues, such as anxiety or depression, medication side effects, or medical conditions like sleep apnea, hypothyroidism or hormone imbalances,” Dr. Chan says. “If your memory problems exceed those associated with the normal aging process, visit a physician to determine whether your memory loss is due to aging or other factors and rule out treatable conditions that can cause memory issues.”

Ask our experts your health question(s).