Archive for memory
Ever heard of brain fog? If you are in menopause, or just starting out; then you most likely know about this first hand.
You know, forgetting a person or colleagues’ name. Not being able to finish a sentence when talking with someone. Forgetting to complete a task that you have started. All embarrassing stuff and if you have dementia in your family, it can be downright frightening.
Rest assured, your memory lapses are most likely due to fluctuating hormones, sleep deprivation, and what experts call “interference“.
Some age related decline in memory is expected and occurs in everyone. Brain volume peaks in early 20′s, then starts a slow decline and becomes noticeable around age 40. The nerves and connections within the brain can become less effective and we have a harder time with certain tasks and memories; but happily not all.
Researches are continually studying memory and how aging affects the function of the brain. The types of memory to first be affected are:
- Episodic memory, such as what I had for breakfast yesterday
- Source memory such as where I learned about that new place to eat
- Flash memory as in where was I on my last birthday?
Additionally, blood flow to the frontal cortex can decline prior to other areas. This can affect our ability to multitask, planning and organizing activity, and verbal fluency.
Luckily, most of us experience these only some of the time and not all at once. Menopause can really make these age related changes seem much worse when you add in sleep deprivation, and anxiety over what is really happening with your body. It has been suggested that memory loss at the menopausal age is more related to interference rather than deterioration of our brain or dementia.
Interference is a term used by psychologist to describe the process of what interferes with our ability to learn new information. Interference can occur when you are focused on performing a task, either simple or complicated; and you are interrupted by a compelling distraction. Your attention is diverted, your brain has not had time to cement the memory of this task so you then forget what you where initially doing. Interference can also make it difficult to learn something as simple as new phone numbers, as your memory of an old phone number gets in the way.
Many of us naturally move to activities that help us with our memory. Making lists for your daily or weekly chores. Devising a trick for remembering names of new people at a meeting or party. Learning a new task or hobby, especially a language is additionally effective at improving mental functioning.
Recent studies have highlighted that exercise is vital to improving brain functioning. Perhaps it occurs by increasing blood flow to the brain and specifically, the frontal cortex. Meditation has been shown to do the same. Additionally, studies have shown that people given time to relax after learning new information have better recall of this information.
So whether you consider yourself an intellectual, or an athlete; the physical condition of your body and your brain are closely linked. Taking care of both through working out your body and your brain will help you age in a manner that allows you to continue to pursue what you love in life.
Obesity and health risks associated with it is at an epidemic level in the US. The risks of hearth disease and diabetes, as well as joint disease are frequently discussed in medical society meetings as well as medical offices through out the country. Most people who are obese would dearly love not to be, and in my medical experience, obese people are often the most sophisticated of dieters. So why is our country getting fatter and more unhealthy with each passing year? Much research is currently being done to look at the issues which cause obesity and the issues which seem to prevent so many people from loosing weight.
Research at the Center for Integrated Systems and Biology of Aging and Nutrition at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom has published a study on how a low calorie diet can extend a persons’ lifespan. This study is purported to provide new insight into why this can occur even if adopted later in life. The research looks at how a restricted diet affects the senescence (point at which a cell can no longer replicate) if cells in mice. Demonstrated were reduced accumulation of senescent cells in liver and intestines, both organs which can demonstrate aging in this fashion. Also noted were protection on the ends of chromosomes, thereby having increased protection from errors of replication. Theoretically then, not overeating can protect the healthy maintenance of our bodies tissues.
Next of interest, a study recently published in the Journal of American Geriatric Society evaluated data from the Women’s Health Initiative regarding the association of weight and cognitive decline. 8,745 women between ages 65-79 were included in this evaluation. They found there was a 1 point drop in memory score as measured by the Modified Mini-Mental Status Exam, with each point increase in BMI. The pattern of fat deposition also had an impact, with pear shaped deposition (hip) having more of an impact on memory. It is speculated that different types of fat produce different cytokines, which cause inflammation. This inflammation may very well affect cognitive decline, more so than fat deposited around the waist.
Studies continue to evaluate the deleterious effects of obesity on health and longevity.
While “getting thin” may be a goal for many women, it is often not a reasonable goal. Medical studies have shown that, in certain situations, a mere 10% loss of weight can extend life for up to a decade. Anything you can do to improve health and life style habits are well worth the effort.
By the year 2030, roughly 20% of the American population will be over 65. This raises serious concerns for the amount of people who will have dementia or some form of cognitive(thinking ability) decline. So what is normal aging and how do we define cognitive impairment?
Normal aging of the brain usually involves some gradual structural and functional changes that can result in up to 10% loss of brain volume by the age of 80. There is shrinking of brain parenchyma (basic functional brain tissue), especially in the frontal region, there is a reduction of blood flow and lower levels of chemical neurotransmitters (used for brain cells to communicate). Senile plaques (are related collections of protein that inhibit cell to cell communication) and neuro fibrillary tangles (short circuits between brain cells) can accumulate which often does not cause problems with memory and function, however these changes also occurs in Alzheimer’s Disease in a much more numerous and widespread manner. Most people know someone with Alzheimer’s Disease and this can be a frightful change to contemplate, but it is important to remember that many changes in the brain as we age do not result in significant impairment.
On the positive side, there is evidence that the adult brain is resilient and able to undergo cortical (cortex is the area where thinking takes place and memory is stored) remodeling. This is called brain plasticity and refers to the brains ability to adapt and change as it ages. Cerebral (pertaining to the brain) blood flow studies reveal that some areas of the brain experience a decrease in blood flow, while other areas experience an increase. This suggests the brain is able to reorganize itself as it experiences normal aging.
Cognitive health is measured by the quality of 9 elements. These include :
- Language 4. executive function 7. attention
- Thought 5. perception 8. remembered skills (driving)
- Memory 6. judgment 9. ability to live a purposeful life
In addition to cognitive health, emotional health associated with aging is also considered when observing total brain function. Emotional health while aging is measured by the absence of psychiatric issues and presence of positive emotional adaptation. There is a lifetime risk of depression of 17% for combined men and women. For women alone, the prevalence is up to twice that or roughly 35%. There is an increased occurrence of depression in women during hormonal swings, and this can occur with the menopause transition. Interestingly, 37% of schizophrenic women develop their illness after 45, however this has not directly been tied to lower estrogen levels or hormonal changes associated with menopause transition.
How do we decide if we or a loved one has a problem? Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is defined as an impairment of memory that is evident to others although the individual can still perform most activities of daily living. Many experts feel that MCI is a transition state between normal aging and AD; and that MCI is a precursor to dementia. Up to 22% of people over 71 will have MCI without developing full dementia. Dementia is a cognitive deficit(reduction of normal function and ability) which includes memory impairment and at least one other cognitive problem such as those listed above.
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia and includes
- memory loss,
- damaged brain cells associated with behavioral changes and
- deteriorating functioning in daily living.
Individuals with AD are unable to learn, comprehend or retain new information and often have limited ability to express themselves verbally. Individuals with AD are often unable to think abstractly nor can they make sound judgments or carry out complex tasks.
Developing dementia is often a risk factor out of our control.
However there are things we can do to maintain brain health and minimize damage to brain cells.
- important to reduce vascular risk factors by maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels;
- reduce blood glucose and
- limit weight gain.
- Increased exercise
- reducing inactivity improves blood flow to the brain and improves glucose metabolism.
- important to avoid head injuries.
Equally important to physical health is to
- stay mentally active.
- Treat any emotional issues and
- remain socially active.
Stay curious and involved with life time learning by
- working on puzzles
- pursuing memory exercises.
As we age, it is ever more important to make good choices day to day in regards to our activities and how we choose to spend our time. It is important to optimize treatment of any medical conditions through medical treatment, in addition to diet and physical activities. Who are the elder people you most admire and aspire to age in a similar fashion? Most likely they are persons who continue to be very engaged with life on many levels.
What is YOUR experience? Do you think these are valid points? Please leave me your comments and use the box on the home page to sign up for all our Free Stuff!
Ever heard of a medical doctor from Massachusetts named Dr. John Ratey? Hang out with me and you will hear his name often along with quotes from his books about learning and the brain.
The BRAIN and how to make yours better and keep it that way will be the subject of my next episode of Ask an Expert on BlogTalkRadio on Thursday May 27 at 730PM EST.
Now, back to Dr. Ratey. I love his book SPARK . I am not paid to say so, I receive nothing if you buy Spark or any other of Dr. Ratey’s books. They are just so good that I have to tell you about them.
Would you like to:
- have your senses heightened?
- improve your focus and mood?
- feel less fidgety and more motivated and invigorated?
Then EXERCISE! It will make every brain cell ready to process any information you present to them.
According to Dr. Ratey and other researchers, the brain is not really hard-wired. It is more like a plastic and is constantly remodeling and increasing and improving circuits. Your brain is a computer you don’t need IT to upgrade, you can do it yourself. Yes, we are professionals and encourage you to do this at home. In Dr. Ratey’s words “Become your own Electrician!”
If you read any research on the brain, you know drug companies are obsessed with neuro-regulator chemicals. The names of these chemicals are Serotonin, Norepinephrine and Dopamine. There is a long list of medications available. They are being used to influence these regulator chemicals to help people with Depression, Anxiety, Panic Disorder and Attention-Deficit Disorder to name a few.
One brain chemical you may not have heard of is called BDNF or brain-derived neurotrophic factor. It is from a family of proteins that are nerve cell growth factors. They as a class and BDNF in particular, cause neurons or brain cells to Survive longer, Differentiate and Grow. They facilitate the growth of the nerve cell to cell communication network called synaptic plasticity.
The synapse is the gap between one nerve cell and the next and the cell uses chemicals to propagate the nerve impulse across the gap. More synapses and more available neuro-transmitters to send the signal across equals better and faster communication within the brain. You get a stronger brain that thinks better, remains calmer and will last longer.
What do you do to get this effect in your own brain? Exercise is part of the equation, a very big part. The other parts identified by Carl Cotman of the UC Irvine Institute on Aging and Dementia are learning through out life and self efficacy or great self talk (I have a few articles on that around here).
Dr. Ratey points out there is a strong Mind-Body connection. The cerebellum at the rear base of the brain is in charge of balance and co-ordination. It is wired with more and larger circuits to the prefrontal cortex or boss/executive center of the brain than monkeys’ brains. Want to make better decisions, recall things better and have more stable emotions – then move more regularly. Dr. Ratey calls this the “Rhythm and Blues connection!”
I would suggest you not make it a routine but do some long and slow stuff – I dance sometimes in my basement, alone – to music that varies from rock, swing and African drums. I do that for 15-20 minutes. Sometimes I lift light weights to music and other times I just do some heavy yard work. Other times I run a series of sprints or lift my 180lb anvil a few times. I mix it up but do it regularly. Dance would have to be my favorite.
What do you do? How do you stimulate your brain through movement? If you have a test, stressful period or need to increase your concentration may I suggest a little more sleep (7.0 instead of 6.5 hours), get up 20 minutes early and go dance. Start with slow songs, build the intensity and then slow down to cool off. It will get you ready. Now tell me do you think I am crazy? Let me know in the comments section! Tell me if you need some help, we can talk on Skype. Look forward to your comments, questions and conversations.
Hit the Home picture above on the left side of the black navigation bar and get your copy of “30 Tips to Control Your Weight” and some other perks like a 4 week subscription to our membership site. During that 4 weeks I have some material to help you develop a plan for improving your mind and your mind-body connection. Sign up now!