As we age, our memory tends to fade. Many people report challenges in solving problems, planning, confusion with time or place, misplacing things, losing the ability to retrace steps, and so much more.
Types of dementia and memory loss
One complicating factor in deciphering between temporary memory loss or a more serious diagnosis is the existence of many types of dementia. More than 50 conditions exist that can mimic or cause dementia.
According to Harvard Health, causes of irreversible dementia include blood vessel diseases, other degenerative disorders (frontotemporal lobar degeneration, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease), slow-growing brain tumors, or infections of the central nervous system (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, AIDS dementia, neurosyphilis).
Treatment can improve mental functioning in some types of dementia, and dementia can even be completely reversible in a small percentage of cases if treatment begins before permanent brain damage occurs.
Why does memory loss happen?
Irreversible types of dementia and memory loss can happen due to various factors, including but not limited to:
- Medications: there are a number of prescription and over-the-counter medications that can cause memory loss such as antidepressants, antihistamines, anti-anxiety medications, muscle relaxants, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and pain medications given after surgery. How do medications cause memory loss? For example, the sedative effects of anti-anxiety medications act on certain parts of the brain, most notably the parts where the transfer of events from short-term to long-term memory occurs. Antihistamines are another example. Similar to incontinence medications, allergy medications inhibit the action of acetylcholine, which is a chemical messenger that mediates bodily functions. In the brain, acetylcholine inhibits activities in the memory and learning centers.
- Vitamin B deficiency: Vitamin B-12 intake is vital for healthy brain function, for maintaining intact myelin sheaths (the protective covering that surrounds nerves), and also helping maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells. Sometimes, memory loss can be a symptom of pernicious anemia, a rare condition caused by low levels of vitamin B-12. Harvard Health notes that “in people with pernicious anemia, the bone marrow produces red blood cells that are both larger and less numerous than normal (see illustration).” In elderly people, the first symptoms of pernicious anemia are usually confusion, slowness, irritability, and apathy. Other symptoms of pernicious anemia include fatigue, yellowish skin, headaches, trouble keeping balance, numbness or tingling in hands and feet, and more. Usually, the B-12 deficiency that underlies pernicious anemia is not caused by a lack of B12 in the diet, because this vitamin is plentiful in eggs, dairy products, meat, fish, and poultry, and it’s efficiently stored in the liver. Instead, a B-12 deficiency usually occurs due to an inability to absorb the vitamin from foods.
- Thyroid Diseases: Individuals with hyperthyroidism, an overproduction of thyroid hormone, commonly exhibit poor concentration, slower reaction times, decreased spatial organization, and decreased visual processing skills. Hypothyroidism, an underproduction of thyroid hormone, can result in memory problems and difficulty concentrating. Research has shown that verbal memory may be affected by hypothyroidism. Another study found a decrease in the size of the hippocampus in adults with untreated hypothyroidism.
Tips on how to improve memory – Brain Rejuvenation Program
The first step in our brain rejuvenation program is to evaluate brain function through:
- Preliminary evaluation – Punctuality, handwriting, social appropriateness
- Assessment forms – Brain Function Assessment Form, Brain Health and Nutrition Assessment Form
- Health history – Memory lapses, cognition, delayed responses, ability to focus, mood
- Lab markers – Fasting Glucose, Comprehensive Blood Chemistry, Homocysteine, stool test
- Physical exam – Hand to nose, balance, sensation
Components of a healthy brain
A healthy brain composition consists of the following:
- Brain circulation and oxygen – Important for transporting glucose and oxygen to mitochondria for energy production, maintaining integrity of the blood brain barrier, and maintaining the nutrients necessary for neurotransmitter synthesis.
- Blood glucose
- The gut-brain axis (two-way communication between the central and enteric nervous systems which link emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with intestinal functions)
- Neurotransmitters – Serotonin which creates feelings of wellbeing, dopamine which stimulates drive and motivation, catecholamines which assist in mental speed and alertness, acetylcholine which supports learning and memory, and GABA which can result in nervousness, panic, overwhelm, and restless mind.
- Essential fatty acids – EPA helps boost the immune system or in other words, boosting the body from the neck down, and DHA boosts the brain by supporting the neurons.
Other ways to focus better and have better concentration include regular exercise, addressing automatic negative thoughts, brain activities such as brain yoga and sudoku or anything that can result in better memory retention, learn something new and teach it to others, acupuncture, meditation, and deep breathing, and nootropics and supplements.
It may seem that with aging, brain degeneration is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be! With improved lifestyle and behavior habits, we can help improve your memory and cognitive abilities in ways that you never thought possible.