By Lindsey Neimand, MD | Neurology
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5.7 million Americans were estimated to be living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2018. June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, which brings attention to those struggling with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. As we age, it is common to have some memory loss, or age-associated memory impairment, due to the deterioration of our hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for the formation and retrieval of memories. Blood flow to the brain can also decrease with age, causing memory impairment and changes in cognitive skills.
It’s important to distinguish the difference between normal and abnormal memory loss and when you should be concerned. If your memory loss is affecting your ability to function and carry out normal activities, you should consult your physician. Your physician will be able to assess your symptoms, recommend appropriate care options, and help with identifying reversible causes of memory loss.
Your brain is able to produce new brain cells at any age; however, you should take steps to ensure you keep your brain healthy and active for years to come. The following tips can help with improving your cognitive skills and preventing memory loss:
- Exercise: Regular physical exercise benefits not only your heart but your brain because it can reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease that lead to memory loss. Try aerobic exercises or activities that require hand-eye coordination.
- Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol to excess: Excessive alcohol consumption has been shown to increase memory loss and smoking can lead to vascular disorders that limit oxygen to the brain. Stop smoking and limit your daily intake of alcohol to 1-2 drinks.
- Learn new things: Brain-boosting activities challenge your brain to break away from your habitual way of thinking and develop new brain pathways. Try something new to stimulate your brain and memory like learning how to play an instrument, speak a foreign language, or work a jigsaw puzzle.
- Socialize with family and friends: Maintaining friendships and relationships with loved ones support not only emotional health but it promotes brain health. Try volunteering or joining a social club in your neighborhood to meet new people, form new friendships or maintain existing ones.
- Healthy diet: Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna, olive oil, and nuts, fruits and vegetables containing antioxidants, and green tea, can all help to improve memory.
- Sleep: Maintain a regular sleep schedule, reduce blue light exposure emitted from TVs, mobile devices and computers at least one hour before bed, and avoid caffeine intake close to bedtime.