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.
In one new study, people had their sugar levels tested then were asked to memorize 15 words. Those with higher levels of blood sugar remembered, on average, two fewer words than those with normal blood sugar. Lower blood sugar, like regular exercise, is linked to a bigger hippocampus, which mean more room for long-term memory storage.
◊ 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.
Medications That May Affect Memory And Possible Substitutes
If you take these drugs…… ask about switching to one of these drugs
another antidepressant such as fluoxetine (Prozac) or sertraline (Zoloft), or a different type of antidepressant such as duloxetine (Cymbalta) or venlafaxine (Effexor)
(Tagamet)a different type of heartburn drug, such as lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec), or esomeprazole (Nexium)
(Ditropan) or tolterodine (Detrol, Detrusitol)other medications for an overactive bladder, such as trospium (Sanctura), solifenacin (Vesicare), or darifenacin (Enablex)
(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.)
(Capoten)a different type of ACE inhibitor, such as enalapril, lisinopril, or ramipril
cold or allergy medication containing brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine, or diphenhydramineloratadine
(Claritin) or other non-sedating antihistamine
(Adapted from Improving Memory: Understanding age-related memory loss, a Harvard Medical School Special Health Report)