Memory Loss Epidemic

Memory Loss Epidemic: Is Your Memory at Risk? 
Know Your Risk Factors

© 2011 Health Realizations, Inc

 

As you get older and find yourself misplacing your glasses, forgetting the phone number of a good friend or experiencing a hazy recall of what you did the past weekend, you get those pangs of sudden panic. Is it normal forgetfulness or a sign of something more?

memory loss

Are you feeling forgetful lately? Keep reading to find out some top causes -- and what to do about them.

Fortunately, these signs of short-term memory loss are a part of the normal aging process and shouldn't raise flags that your mind is in deterioration mode. Your brain is one of the most complex and powerful organs in your body and has the ability to grow new brain cells in the hippocampus (the area of the brain responsible for the forming, sorting and storing memories) each day throughout your lifetime.

There are many factors other than the normal aging process that contribute to short-term memory loss, however. Below are seven common and sometimes overlooked causes of short-term memory loss followed by 10 tips to protect your brain and even help induce the growth of new brain cells.

7 Common Causes of Short-Term Memory Loss

  1. Head Injuries

The leading cause of death from sports-related injuries is traumatic brain injury, which is defined as a blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. Head injuries can also cause you to forget events right before, during and after the accident.

Cycling ranks on top, causing the highest number of head injuries treated in U.S. hospital rooms. This is followed by football, baseball, basketball and water sports like surfing, swimming and water polo. Other common school-aged sports that can cause head injuries include cheerleading, soccer and gymnastics. The following statistics reflect the seriousness and possible long-term repercussions of head injuries:

  • Once a person suffers a concussion, he or she is as much as four times more likely to sustain a second one. And after they endure several concussions, it takes less of a blow to cause the injury and requires more time to recover.

  • A study of NFL players found that more than 60 percent had suffered at least one concussion in their careers and 26 percent had suffered three or more. Those who had had concussions reported more difficulty with memory, concentration, speech impediments, headaches and other neurological problems than those who had not.

  • According to the American Academy of Pediatrics the number of emergency room visits by children ages 8 to 13 has doubled from 1997 to 2007 and, during the same period, concussions in kids ages 14 to 19 increased by an overwhelming 200 percent.

  • In July 2010, the NFL took action on the increased risks of head injury by putting a tough message across on posters bluntly alerting its players to the long-term effects of concussions, using words like "depression" and "early onset of dementia."

Head Injury Prevention Tips

If you or your child is involved in any kind of contact sport in school or recreationally, it's best to be equipped with protection to prevent the occurrence of a head injury. Picking up a helmet is an effective safety device to get that needed head protection. When selecting a helmet, look for the ASTM approval, as this guarantees that the product underwent testing and meets rigorous safety standards.

In addition to wearing a helmet there are some other general safety precautions you can take to provide you and your family a safe environment. These include:

  • Be sure there is some type of supervision for your children at all times in school or team sports or recreational activities.

  • Follow all rules at water parks and swimming pools including not diving in water less than 12 feet deep and never in above-ground pools.

  • Wear clothing that is appropriate to the sport and be sure whatever you're wearing doesn't impede your vision.

  • Don't participate in any sporting activity if you're under the weather or feeling fatigued.

  • Stay off of all unpaved surfaces and obey all rules of the road when cycling, skateboarding or rollerblading. Always be aware of motorists and your surroundings at all times.

  • Keep up with maintenance and perform regular safety checks on all sports equipment such as your bicycle and get rid of and replace any defective sports gear or equipment.

  1. Medication

Oftentimes the medication you are taking has several side effects, one of those being memory loss, especially among the senior population where it's not unusual to be taking many prescriptions simultaneously prescribed by different specialists to treat a myriad of conditions.

Statistics show that two-thirds of the senior population takes one or more prescriptions a day and one-fourth take four or more medications a day. What many people don't realize are all the side effects that can occur due to the interactions between medications, including prescription, over-the-counter and supplements. Some symptoms that can result from medication interaction include: 

  • Mood changes

  • Loss of energy

  • Difficulty walking

  • Confusion and other memory problems

  • Incontinence

These kinds of dangerous interactions often result in hospitalization or, worse, are written off as old age. 

Statins, cholesterol-lowering drugs, in particular, have been linked to neurological side effects such as memory loss. Despite the fact that cognitive side effects like memory loss and fuzzy thinking aren't included on the information sheet for Lipitor, a commonly prescribed cholesterol-lowering drug, some doctors are expressing concerns that it may be hindering the mind. Anecdotal reports from researchers at the University of California at San Diego show that memory problems are the second most common side effect after muscle aches among patients taking statin drugs. 

Antacid use has also been associated with memory loss and dementia. One study published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society even found that elderly African Americans who regularly use antacids like Pepcid, Tagament and Zantac have nearly 2.5 times the risk of developing dementia!

If you suspect there may be medication interactions or side effects causing problems for your loved ones, encourage them to schedule an appointment with a specialist to assess their health conditions and all of the medications they are taking.

  1. Protein Deficiency and Antacid Use

A lack of protein in your diet, or an inability to digest it properly, can also harm your memory. Further, if you take antacids, they will deplete the stomach acids necessary to utilize protein as well as help absorb important minerals and B vitamins, both of which are important for brain function and memory. People deficient in B12 face serious neurological consequences that could lead to significant memory loss similar to that seen in Alzheimer's patients.I thanked her and told her that we would take care of it.

Fortunately, fulfilling your daily requirements of 70 grams of protein a day is relatively easy. A typical day of a bowl of cereal with milk for breakfast, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch and a piece of fish with a side dish of legumes for dinner meets the protein requirements for the day for an average adult.

  1. Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome, a condition characterized by high blood pressure, excess fat around the waist, high blood sugar levels, high triglycerides and low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, has also been linked to cognitive decline and increased risk of dementia. The new research revealed:

  • People who had metabolic syndrome were 20 percent more likely to have cognitive decline on a memory test than those who did not

  • People with metabolic syndrome were 13 percent more likely to have cognitive decline on a visual working memory test, compared to people not diagnosed with metabolic syndrome

  • Higher triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol were associated with poorer memory scores.

While several factors appear to cause metabolic syndrome, the dominant underlying risk factors for this syndrome appear to be abdominal obesity and insulin resistance. Exercising for 30-60 minutes a day at a moderate intensity level, most days of the week, and eating a healthy diet, which focuses on fruits, fiber, vegetables and lean meats can help reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome.

memory loss

If you're looking for another reason to quit, you should know that smoking increases your risk of memory deficits and other cognitive problems.

  1. Smoking

Most people are already familiar with the detrimental impacts of smoking on health, such as increasing the risk for heart disease and hypertension but now studies are showing another not as talked about consequence -- impaired memory and increased risk of dementia.

Smoking may lead to memory loss by damaging blood vessels in the brain, cutting off the oxygen needed to function at full capacity and resulting in neuron damage. It can also increase your risk of other conditions that lead to memory loss, like hypertension and stroke.

According to one study from France, smoking in middle age was linked to memory deficits and cognitive problems, such as a decline in reasoning abilities.

  1. Diabetes

Nearly 26 million Americans suffer from some form of diabetes and that number is expected to increase in coming years. Research suggests that diabetes can lead to memory problems, possibly because it damages blood vessels that supply the brain.

One study even revealed that complications from diabetes put people at a 65 percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. 
Alzheimer's Association vice-president William Thies told Medical News Today:

"This is one of the first long-term studies to follow people who start out with no evidence of Alzheimer's disease and track how having diabetes affects their risk of developing it. It's a powerful argument for doing everything you can to control your blood sugar."

The good news is that type 2 diabetes can often be prevented, kept under control and even cured with proper diet and exercise habits.

  1. Sleep

Getting a good night's sleep is essential for your overall health and keeping your memory banks strong, and if you suffer from certain sleep disorders, your memory could be particularly at risk.

For instance, sleep apnea, a common sleep disorder in which your breathing pauses for a few seconds to a minute while you are sleeping, can lead to intellectual impairment such as trouble concentrating, forgetfulness or irritability. And when left untreated it can lead to further learning and memory difficulties.

One study on sleep apnea and how it affects the brain showed that the part of the brain region that stores memory shrinks in people with sleep apnea.

"Our findings demonstrate that impaired breathing during sleep can lead to a serious brain injury that disrupts memory and thinking," said Ronald Harper, lead researcher of the study.

Researchers believe the brain tissue is affected because of the repeated drops of oxygen during the sleep apnea episodes throughout the course of the night, causing cells to die.

If you suspect you or your partner has sleep apnea, schedule an appointment with your doctor to come up with a plan of treatment that targets lifestyle changes such as eating habits, weight-loss techniques, quitting smoking and avoiding alcohol and caffeine before bedtime.

Techniques to Improve Memory and Preserve Your Brain Cells

No matter what your age, you can start strengthening your brain cells and protect the ones you have as you grow older. Think of your memory as a muscle that needs to be worked out on a daily basis and once you stop it begins to atrophy and fade away. If you practice just a few of these brain exercises, memory techniques and simple lifestyle changes you will improve your memory and create a stimulating life of fulfillment and enrichment:

  • Challenge your brain in a new way -- By stepping out of your normal routine and doing something that your brain isn't accustomed to doing, you can stimulate a not commonly used area of your brain. You could do this by engaging in activities like brushing your teeth or writing using your non-dominant hand. Another way is by practicing an exercise called "neurobics," performing everyday activities such as showering and getting dressed with your eyes closed.

  • Keep your mind open to learning something new -- Just as your body functions best when you keep it in physical shape, your brain functions at optimal levels when it's stimulated and used daily. You can keep mentally active in a number of fun and creative ways. You can enroll in a course on a subject you've always wanted to learn more about, learn a new game that involves strategic thinking, study a new language, find and make a new recipe, complete crossword puzzles or explore volunteer opportunities.

  • When learning new things, pay attention -- You'll find it difficult to learn something new if you aren't focused. If you find that you are easily distracted, go somewhere that is quiet and free of distractions and dedicate it as your "learning space." During this time don't take any phone calls or allow yourself to be interrupted by distractions and put your complete focus into your learning activity.

  • Keep a positive outlook -- By maintaining a positive attitude and staying motivated you're increasing your chances for success at learning something new or taking on a challenging new brain-stimulating activity. Keep reminding yourself that this is something you want to learn and that you will succeed.

Lifestyle Changes to Keep Your Mind Mentally Fit

A physically fit body and healthy mind create a very harmonious balance. One doesn't do well without the other. In fact, studies have shown that people that engage in vigorous exercise and make a concerted effort to keep their minds strong stay mentally sharp into their 70s and 80s.

A recent study even showed that walking six to nine miles a week can reduce brain shrinkage and cut your risk of memory loss in half. Other memory-enhancing benefits of exercise include:

  • Increased oxygen levels to your brain

  • Reduction in the risk of developing disorders that increase your risk of memory loss, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease

  • May help protect brain cells and enhance brain functioning

If you are trying to think of ways to incorporate physical exercise into your daily routine, here are some ways to get started:

  • Think of places you often frequent that you could walk or ride your bike instead of driving

  • Start taking walks around your neighborhood and for that extra motivation call up a friend to join you

  • Whenever possible, use the stairs instead of getting on the elevator

  • Establish an exercise routine at home by using a workout video or exercise bands

  • Take advantage of your green thumb and plant a new flower or vegetable garden

  • Sign up for an exercise class at your local park district or get a membership to your local health club or YMCA

  • If you have access to a pool, use it and set aside time to do laps each week

  • Take up a sport that requires cardiovascular exertion such as tennis

Nutritional Therapy for a Healthy Mind

Following a heart-healthy eating plan is just as good for your physical body as it is for your mental acuity. Focus on integrating fruits, vegetables and whole grains into your daily diet to stay healthy and keep your mind sharp.

Along with a diet that focuses on fresh, raw foods, you'll also want to be sure you're consuming plenty of omega-3 fats. The omega-3s found in fish and fish oil are associated with promoting cognitive function. The American Heart Association recommends that you eat two servings or more of fish a week, but because fish may be contaminated with heavy metals, you may want to opt to take a purified omega-3 fat supplement instead.

One to try is OmegAvail Lemon Drop Smoothie: a delicious tasting, high potency, emulsified fish oil product with superior bioavailability.

Other supplements that may help to strengthen your mind include the following regimen from Designs for Health, which are available only through qualified health care practitioners:

  • Brain Vitale: Contains two powerful brain revitalizing nutrients, Acetyl Carnitine and PhosphatidylSerine (PS), both capable of repairing brain neurons, and is reinforced with the mind-body nutrient GPC (GlyceroPhosphoCholine).

  • GPC (GlyceroPhosphoCholine): GPC is a protective orthomolecular nutrient for the brain, kidneys, muscles, testes and other organs, and a water - phase building block for cell membrane phospholipids.

  • Acetyl-L-Carnintine: Supports biosynthesis of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter for brain and nerve function.

  • Phosphatidyl Serine: An essential component of all neuronal membranes. Human research suggests PS may help support overall brain wellness.


Sources

HelpGuide.org  How to Improve Your Memory

New York Times October 21, 2010

American Association of Neurological Surgeons Sports-Related Head Injury

Harvard Health Publications Preventing Memory Loss

Wall Street Journal February 12, 2008

ScienceDirect.com April 2004

Web MD June 9, 2008

Archives of Internal Medicine June 9, 2008

Medical News Today May 21, 2004

FamilyDoctor.org Memory Loss With Aging: What's Normal, What's Not

New York Times June 11, 2008

Journal Neuroscience Letters June 27, 2008

American Academy of Neurology October 13, 2010

WebMD February 2, 2011

Neurology February 8, 2011

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Volume 55, Issue 8, pages 1248 -- 1253, August 2007

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