What is Memory Loss? 3 Natural Things You Can Do Today To Beat It
What is Memory Loss?
The words “memory loss” makes me think of my patients who struggle with completing sentences, recalling words or names, repeating the same question, forgetting conversations, new or recent events, repeatedly lose things, become disoriented in familiar places, have difficulty carrying out familiar tasks, or lose their ability to perform simple math. We’ve all probably had one of these experiences under momentary circumstances due to lack of sleep, hunger, and stress. But when this type of problem is long-term, persistent, and gets worse over time, we call it Cognitive Decline or Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) – mild, as long as the affected person is still able to carry out their normal activities of daily living.
A recent report by the American Academy of Neurology found that MCI is common. It affects 6.7% of adults ages 60–64, 8.4% ages 65–69, 10.1% ages 70–74, 14.8% ages 75–79, and 25.2% ages 80–84. What is especially concerning is that adults with MCI are at high risk for developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, an estimated 15% of those with MCI over the age of 65 will develop dementia each year. While there is no drug proven to reverse memory loss the good news is that a high percentage of these adults revert to normal (reportedly between 14.4% and 55.6%).
The bad news is that individuals who revert remain at a higher risk of progression back to MCI or dementia compared to individuals who have never received an MCI diagnosis. Even more concerning is that an estimated 40% to 60% of individuals aged 58 years and older with MCI have underlying Alzheimer’s disease changes in their brains, they just don’t know it…yet. At highest risk are those who carry the most common genetic risk factor for Late Onset Alzheimer’s Disease (onset after the age of 65) called ApoE4, present in 20-30% of the population. What can you do about it?
Track Your Sleep
Sleep is more than a time of rest. One of the many functions of sleep is a process called “memory consolidation.” While you sleep your brain is hard at work sorting out all the information and experiences you had during the day. Think of the process like moving information from the RAM on your computer onto the hard drive for permanent storage. If you accidentally lose power on your computer before you have a chance to save your work the information is lost.
Sleep deprivation for just one night has been shown to increase the toxic Alzheimer’s-associated protein deposits called amyloid in healthy adults ages 22 to 72 while decreased slow wave (a stage of deep sleep) has been associated with increased tau protein in the brain in early Alzheimer’s disease. Tau protein accumulates as a result of nerve cell destruction. Since the accumulation of amyloid is more closely associated with the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and tau protein is more associated with the onset of cognitive decline a good night of sleep – that’s 7 to 8 hours per night – through an adult’s lifetime may both reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and slow the progression once a person starts showing signs of deterioration.
Track your sleep using one of many digital wearables available on the market today. By keeping track of your sleep, you are more likely to aim for and achieve the optimal 7-8 hours per night.
Get Regular Exercise
Exercise affects our biology in many different ways. It improves the health of the gut, supports detoxification, if dosed correctly provides a healthy amount of stress, balances hormones, strengthens muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, and bones. It improves blood flow, oxygen delivery, and triggers the growth of new blood vessels. Levels of the hormone Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor or BDNF increase with exercise which, in turn, stimulates the growth of neural stem cells to become mature brain cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus plays a critical role in short-term memory and is particularly affected in Alzheimer’s disease.
Exercise is a powerful tool to reverse the memory loss associated with Mild Cognitive Impairment. Exercise should be varied and consist of aerobic activity such as running and cycling with bursts of moderate to high intensity efforts, low-intensity mind-body exercise such as yoga or tai chi, exercise that includes a complex series of cross-body movements such as dancing, boxing, or martial arts, and resistance exercises such as weight lifting. Aim for 5 hours per week.
Get Groovy on Stress Resilience Habits
Stress, which places an emphasis on cortisol production, shrinks brain tissue – including the hippocampus. Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone. Elevated levels of cortisol in the hippocampus blocks the release of BDNF. Having a persistently high level of stress is like trying to drive your car with one foot on the accelerator and the other foot on the brake. In the body stress affects energy metabolism, triggers metabolic changes, leads to immune system activation, digestion suppression, reproductive shut down, and influences the expression of our genes.
Hans Selye, a scientist whose pioneering research laid the foundation for our understanding of the relationship between stress and disease, is famous for saying, “Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older.” While life can be a minefield of stressful circumstances, the important thing is how we react to stress and for how long.
Practicing increased stress resilience or stress resistance can go a long way to improving memory and preventing memory loss. Patterned breathing exercises, mindfulness-based meditation, yoga, biofeedback, neuro-feedback, sound therapy, and technology that increases heart rate variability are all tools available today to improve our biological response to stress and take our “idling speed” down a few notches from fight or flight to one that is a state of repose more often than not.
We Understand Memory Loss
At Sharlin Health and Neurology we specialize in helping people improve the health of their brains by addressing the root causes of conditions like Alzheimer’s and Mild Cognitive Impairment. Our experience with reversal of cognitive decline in 100 patients was published in a peer-reviewed journal article in 2018. Get started on your journey back to brain health with these three tips. If you would like to take a deeper dive with us and discover all the other factors that contribute to your memory loss and what you can do about it, schedule your free 15-minute telephone consultation to talk about how we can help.