4 Ways to Prevent Memory Loss
By Carole Thomas, MD, Virtua Neurologist
When it comes to aging and memory loss, there’s bad news and there’s good news.
The bad news...
Memory loss is a normal and inevitable part of aging. It can take hold as early as your 30s, and is entirely common by the time you reach your 50s, 60s, and beyond. As I tell every one of my patients—unlike fine wine, memory does not get better with age.
The good news...
There’s a lot that can be done to prevent—and sometimes even reverse—the effects of aging on memory and overall brain health. What’s more, memory loss is not automatically a sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
There are several reasons why memory deteriorates as you get older. Some are biological—it’s just a fact that as the brain gets older, its cells deteriorate. But other reasons have to do with lifestyle changes. I often have patients in their late 50s or early 60s who come into my office convinced that they have the beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease. More often than not, they’ve recently retired, and they’re no longer mentally active every day in the same way.
So, should you be concerned about losing keys, forgetting appointments, and going into a room to get something and suddenly forgetting what it was? Worry not—I’m in my 50s, and these are all things that happen to me—all typical signs of normal memory loss, not dementia.
And while there isn’t conclusive evidence that keeping mentally active will prevent the onset of dementia, there are studies and strong anecdotal evidence that indicate mental exercises can strengthen the brain and enhance mental sharpness as you get older.
Engaging in activities that are new or challenging—think crossword puzzles, learning a new language, interacting with new people, reading—can go far in improving brain heath. There are lots of games and apps built for brain exercises, including video games with brain teasers. If that’s something you like to do, go for it. There may not be hard evidence at this time that it definitely helps, but it certainly can’t hurt.
Other ways to keep the brain strong
- Physical exercise is a big one
Studies have shown conclusively that people who exercise regularly have a better level of mental functioning.
- Diet and overall health are also key
Keeping your body healthy is going to keep your brain healthy and functioning in the best possible way. If you have a lot of medical issues—heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol—they're going to affect your memory. It’s important to keep chronic medical conditions under control with diet, exercise, and medications prescribed by your doctor.
- Aim to keep stress levels low, and address any emotional health problems
People who struggle with anxiety and/or depression often find they have trouble with their memory. These problems may appear similar to, but are essentially unlike, memory loss associated with aging. Instead, stress, anxiety, and depression cause memory issues associated with concentration—meaning information is not properly stored in the first place, making it impossible to recall later on.
- Make sure to get enough sleep
How you function mentally has a lot to do with how you sleep. Recent studies also have linked sleep apnea—a condition that causes you to temporarily stop breathing during sleep—to problems with mental sharpness and a host of other physical ailments. Snorers, or those whose partners have indicated suspicion of such a problem, should see a doctor.
How do you tell the difference between normal memory loss and dementia?
Red flags for possible dementia include getting lost while driving to a familiar place, forgetting the names of friends or family members, or suddenly being reprimanded at work because of failure to complete your tasks.
The majority of people who come into my office worried that they have dementia don’t have it. But if memory issues are starting to affect your daily functioning, that’s when you need to see a doctor.
Call 888-847-8823 to schedule a visit with a Virtua neurologist today.
Updated May 10, 2021