Preserving and improving memory as we age
Do you sometimes have trouble remembering the name of your favorite actor or dinner plans with your friend? Are you noticing that you’re having more difficulty finding your phone or your keys? If so, it could be the result of normal aging — or it could be a condition called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). You owe it to yourself and your family to keep your brain healthy. You are as good as your memory. Protecting your brain from cognitive decline should be your highest health priority.
Yes, sometimes cognitive impairment is “reversible”. A diagnosis of MCI doesn’t necessarily mean you’re stuck with it. Dozens of medications including sleeping pills, cholesterol-lowering agents, blood pressure pills and anti-depressants may cause reactions that mimic cognitive decline. Memory and other cognitive functions may be restored simply by changing medications. Uncontrolled blood sugar or blood pressure can also damage your brain. The trick is to rely more on lifestyle changes instead of multiple medications.
Shielding your brain against MCI
Giving your brain a workout through learning new skills, new hobbies, puzzles, chess or a new language can help, too. A traditional Mediterranean diet or a flexitarian low-meat diet can lower the risk of MCI and slow the progression of dementia in people who have the condition. Spending time with a few good friends who discuss ideas, instead of talking about events and people, can do wonders for your brain. So can a good dependable spouse whom you love.
Is stress good for you or bad for you?
Recent studies confirmed that those who retire early die earlier and are inflicted with more diseases including memory decline. Excessive stress and toxic relationships are bad for your health and for your memory. The trick is to continue working as long as your health permits regardless of your age, provided you find a job that you enjoy doing and that you are passionate about and you avoid toxic people as much as possible. Frequently that involves moving into a job that has meaning or social responsibility, not just monetary reward, which is easier to do at a later stage of life when your kids are financially independent and you have paid off your house mortgage. Do not keep taking on more debt in a useless pursuit of more material things. Excessive stress interferes with sleep. Good sleep – so that you are not sleepy during the day – is essential for restoring brain and body functions.
Continue working and accumulating some good stress and burn it off with continued movement and age-appropriate exercise such as brisk walking, all kinds of dancing, swimming, yoga, golf or tennis. This strategy preserves not only your brain health, but also your bone health, heart health, your muscles and your balance. Studies have shown that spirituality or religion also minimizes mental and emotional decline and depression that frequently affect the elderly.
The latest MCI treatment options
As of now, there’s no medication that’s been proven effective for age-related memory loss. However, one food supplement that should be on your list: phosphatidylserine. Dozens of studies have demonstrated that phosphatidylserine, a relatively expensive food supplement, may help improve memory impairment associated with aging. One egg yolk contains 115 mg of this magic substance. Another reason to include an organic egg in your breakfast.
You can improve your cardiovascular fitness by lowering your blood pressure, reducing cholesterol, which can be accomplished with fewer brain-harmful medications by reducing refined sugar and salt, and quitting smoking.
Dr Emilia Saulle is an Italian Board-certified neurologist practicing in Dubai. She studied medicine at the University of Messina in Italy, completing her medical degree in 1997. After medical school, she completed her Neurology specialist training at the University Tor Vergata in Rome in 2003 (CCST in Neurology). She then moved to the UK where she worked as full-time Consultant Neurologist at Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust for more than a decade, while also earning her PhD in Neuroscience in 2007.