Archive for memory


New Culprit in Memory Loss-Inflammation?

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Everyone becomes forgetful at some point in their lives, but when it occurs to someone already dealing with the symptoms of aging; dementia becomes the feared ailment.

Forgetfulness is one thing, dementia is a whole other beast. While there are some things you can do to avoid dementia, some of it is predetermined by genetics. Preserving your memory is as much as preserving your health.

It is all about inflammation. What we do and don’t do to our bodies and to our health, causes inflammation. Inflammation causes harm to our cells; it is unavoidable but definitely can be minimized.

Memory loss in the form of mild forgetfulness is a normal consequence of aging, as we do lose brain cells and volume over time. It is also a function of too much brain multitasking, so a thought or intention is not properly imprinted. In other words, doing too much at one time can crowd the brain circuits and make it difficult to remember, usually the lesser important thoughts.

There are also some medical conditions that can make memory harder to preserve. Think of your brain as a computer. If it does not get proper energy, it cannot work. It also needs a break once in a while in the form of sleep and relaxation.

Your brain needs oxygen, blood flow and glucose to work. If you are not breathing well, or you have a heart condition; your brain may not get what it needs. Usually there is enough glucose, so this is rarely an issue. It also needs the nutrients that nourish the nerves such as the B vitamins, fatty acids, even cholesterol! Thyroid hormone also is the metabolic booster for the body. If this is not in adequate supply, the engine can’t work as effectively.

Finally, there are our sex hormones that help with brain function. Both estrogen and testosterone help with brain function and memory. As these hormones decrease with aging, you may notice a decline in your memory abilities.

Inflammation is also felt to be a culprit in decreasing memory. Inflammation can come from a wide variety of sources including infections, arthritis, smoking, diabetes, hypertension to name a few. Excessive alcohol use is also detrimental mostly through poor nutrition.

So it would stand to reason that improving your memory, or at least keeping it from worsening; would include proper healthy treatment of the medical conditions that cause inflammation. In addition, treating conditions that improve blood flow to the brain as well as oxygenation are key.

Exercise will improve your heart and your lungs, helping to deliver an abundant supply of oxygen and nutrients to your brain.

A healthy, well rounded diet with foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, and the B vitamins will support nerve health. Limiting alcohol which can damage the nerves is equally as important.

Avoiding poor sleep habits will help you to get a good nights sleep, allowing your brain to repair itself.

Managing your blood pressure and glucose metabolism with a healthy lifestyle and  medication if needed, will help keep inflammation of your system down.

When do you worry? When your memory issues are impacting your life.

You don’t have to wait until you forget what city you are in to have your memory be a problem. Decreased work performance can be an indicator of a problem, or repeatedly forgetting names of people in social situations. Suddenly no being able to complete a set of chores that normally you complete in a day. These can all be indicators of a health problem.

See your medical provider to get some labs done. You will want to get your thyroid level checked, may be Vitamin B12 especially if you are a vegetarian. Vitamin D level may also be useful. You may need to review any medications you are on, statin therapy for cholesterol can be a big culprit in affecting memory.

Lastly, hormone therapy may be indicated. For women at low risk for heart problems and breast cancer, hormone replacement therapy is very useful at helping to restore memory. For men with a low testosterone, replacement with this hormone can also help to restore memory and erase the fogginess that low testosterone can cause.

While inflammation is an unavoidable consequence of aging, there is a lot we can do to minimize the inflammation in our body. Living as healthy as you can helps your brain as well as the rest of your system.

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Improving Your Memory During Menopause

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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.

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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.

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What was her name?

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 :

  1. Language               4.  executive function                   7.  attention
  2. Thought                 5.  perception                                8.  remembered skills (driving)
  3. 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

  • reading,
  • writing,
  • 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!

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Anne Vaillancourt

How many of us have gotten into the store and completely forgotten what we went there for? Or we run into an acquaintance or worse, a friend, and we completely blank on their name. These things are troubling to us and at times embarrassing. When they occur as we are aging, however, situations like this can be frightening. We all are concerned about becoming that person we hear of or know of whose body is present,  but their mind in gone. So why do these changes seem to happen so suddenly to women during menopause? And what does this mean and what can we do lessen these effects?

A full 40% of women 48-55 complain of forgetfulness and most are associated with the time of menopause. In past years, it was always felt that the forgetfulness that is associated with menopause is a function of hot flashes and sleep deprivation. While this can certainly impact mental acuity, researches now feel there is a physiologic cause for this effect on memory, mood, and attention.

The brain has estrogen receptors (places that estrogen can physically attach) through out. Important areas , like the hippocampus and frontal lobes contain these receptors, which affect working memory, verbal memory, and retrieval of memories. Estrogen is believed to modulate( have a speed of action and a different effect when estrogen is present than when it is not) genetic expression, the action of neuropeptides and neurosteroids, as well as electrical pathways and synapses. Following menopause, these compounds change due to the lack of estrogen hormones in the brain. All of this suggests that estrogen has a very important role in brain functioning and its absence or declining amounts of estrogen can impact  certain areas of the brain to the extent that neurotransmitters, neuropeptides and neurosteroids (chemicals in the brain that are part of memory storage and brain cell interactions) actually change to compensate. What do the studies suggest we can do to help lessen the impact of menopause on cognitive (thinking)function?

Most studies prior to The Women’s Health Initiative were observational(not an experiment) at best, and in retrospect not very accurate. The large scale study, The Women’s Health Initiative in which  161,808 women between age 50-79 were followed for 15 years, gave researchers a wealth of data regarding several issues in women and menopause. One of the primary goals was to determine if hormonal therapy helps with prevention of cognitive(thinking/memory) decline, as well as heart disease and a host of other health issues. A subset of the WHI is the WHIMS study where 7,480 women older than 65 who had no dementia at baseline(the start of observation).

These women were enrolled(permitted to participate in the study) and given one of the following: estrogen, estrogen and progesterone, or placebo. The working premise was that HRT(hormone replacement therapy) will protect against dementia or cognitive decline. Prior to WHIMS, it was felt that HRT did protect against Alzheimer’s Disease ( AD) and Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)up to 30%. As mentioned above, most studies were observational and as it turns out on closer analysis, biased due to sampling error.  At the termination of the WHI and WHIMS trial, data indicated that women taking estrogen and progesterone had twice the risk of dementia over women on estrogen alone and placebo. Estrogen alone did not confer any benefit or harm over placebo in regards to dementia and cognitive decline.

Since WHIMS, there have been several smaller studies looking at use of HRT in the early post menopausal time. These studies have shown an improvement in cognitive testing but surprisingly, this was not consistent. Most improvement was seen in the subjects who were experiencing the most menopausal symptoms. With use of HRT, specifically estrogen alone, these women had improvement in cognitive testing involving verbal memory, attention, abstract reasoning and motor speed. Women not experiencing menopausal symptoms did not demonstrate improvement in cognitive functioning while on estrogen treatment.

The most robust response for cognition occurred in the group of women who had undergone surgical menopause(had their ovaries removed before natural menopause began) and were on estrogen alone. This study was only carried out for several months; most of the participants had intact uteri(ovaries gone, uterus intact) and therefore would not be able to remain on estrogen alone. In regards to the WHIMS study, the decline in cognition was felt to be consistent with use of progesterone and the deleterious effects on vasculature also seen in the heart disease prevention arm of the study.

What is a woman to do? The studies do suggest that use of HRT early in post menopause may be helpful for women experiencing memory issues significant enough to impact their lives and sense of productivity. This requires

  • a review of risk factors in using hormone replacement
  • a discussion with a regular medical provider regarding appropriateness of use of HRT.

It is always helpful to maintain balance with plenty of sleep, relaxation and exercise, as well as testing the brain in different ways. A new routine, using crossword puzzles and staying active socially all keep different areas of the brain active. The old saying “use it or loose it” applies to the brain and memory also.

Tell me about your experience. Leave me a comment in the section following the article. Please use the box in the upper right column to sign up to receive all our Free Stuff.

Categories : Menopause Symptoms
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The Brain

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!

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