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7 Brain Boosters to Prevent Memory Loss

  Experts share tips to help ward off age-related memory loss.

I read a great article today and I wanted to share it with you. If your like me and getting older by the day,I have noticed that my memory is not what it used to be now I am looking for ways to help my brain and my memory.

By Virginia Anderson
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Baby boomers have long been spending millions to save their sagging skin, fix their crow’s feet, and plump their lips. Now, however, boomers are turning to brain boosters to fight an invisible effect of aging: memory loss.

While body parts sag and wrinkle, the brain actually shrinks with age, neural connections slow down, and fewer nerve cells are created, experts explain.

The process begins as early as your 30s and affects tens of millions of Americans, leaving them not only frustrated but also causing a loss of self-confidence, social impairment, and loss of enjoyment of life that can sometimes lead to self-neglect and serious health issues.

To thwart age-related memory loss, many people have turned to brain exercises and brain games such as chess, crossword puzzles, reading aloud, brushing teeth, and computer games like MindFit and Posit Science that promise mental sharpness if you practice enough.

But do those activities really work?

To find out, WebMD turned to several experts who study the effect of aging on the brain. They say there are steps we can take to keep our brains younger. Here’s what you can do:

 

Brain Booster No.1: Exercise

Exercising is one of the most frequently cited activities to improve age-related memory.

“The one that has the most robust findings is physical exercise,” says Molly Wagster, PhD, chief of the behavioral and systems neuroscience branch division of the National Institute on Aging.

And it helps if the exercise is aerobic, Wagster says. Studies have shown that older people who exercise — and we’re talking fairly easy exercise of moderate walking a few times a week — outperformed couch potatoes after six months.

Experts do not fully understand why exercise helps boost brainpower, but it could be for several reasons. First, exercise diminishes stress, a key drain of brain energy, and it also helps overall health. It also helps people sleep better, which improves memory and keeps the blood flowing to all parts of your body.

“In general, what’s good for the heart is good for the brain,” says Gary Small, MD, director of the UCLA Center for Aging and author of iBrain, which examines, among other things the effect of the Internet on our brains.

Brain Booster No. 2: Eating a Rainbow of Fruits and Vegetables

Experts stress that people must pay attention to their diets and eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, five to seven servings daily ranging from leafy greens to blueberries to tomatoes to sweet potatoes. While there is no one “brain food,” antioxidants — which are often found in fruits and vegetables — help to curb free-radical damage to cells.

“Our brain kind of gets rusty with age,” explains Small.

Also, experts say there’s no magic brain vitamin or supplement that will protect against memory loss. P. Murali Doraiswamy, MD, chief of biological psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center and author of The Alzheimer’s Action Plan, says that B vitamins may help, as could the spice turmeric, but that studies are inconclusive.

Brain Booster No. 3: Mental Workouts

To keep your brain sharp, many experts say, you need to challenge it regularly.

“It’s just like it is with muscles,” says Randolph Schiffer, MD, director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

There is some evidence that mental gymnastics can help preserve memory, but some of the promises of computer games outstrip the reality of the benefits, researchers say.

“Nothing has met the gold standard,” explains Doraiswamy. “If they had, they’d all be sold as prescription drugs.”

Still, the games can’t hurt, says Brenda Plassman, PhD, a professor in the department of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center and the principal investigator of the Aging, Demographics and Memory Study. Plassman says she would simply caution older people not to spend money on something that hasn’t been proved to work to help age-related memory loss.

“I would encourage people to look at various options for free,” says Plassman.

Brain Booster No. 4: Sleep

Healthy sleep patterns are crucial for cognitive performance, especially memory, the experts say. That means at least seven hours of sleep each night.

Sleep is essential to lower levels of stress hormones, to relax and refresh your entire body, and to literally turn off your brain. “There are parts of sleep where memory gets archived,” says Doraiswamy.

While it may be tempting to take over-the-counter — or even prescription — sleeping medications, be aware that many may impair memory. Check with your doctor about side effects of sleep medications, as well as all drugs.

Also, limit your intake of alcohol if you experience sleeping problems, as it can disrupt sleeping patterns.

Brain Booster No. 5: Red Wine

Some studies indicate that red wine is good for the heart and thus the brain, the experts say. Not all the reasons are understood, but many researchers believe red wine may be good for you because it contains the antioxidant resveratrol.

There is a possibility, however, that the benefits associated with red wine could come from other factors, such as the social aspect of wine drinking or income level associated with those who drink wine.

A 2007 study of elderly Italians showed that drinking alcohol in moderation may slow the progression to dementia in elderly people who already have mild mental declines. Defined in the study as less than one drink a day, low to moderate drinking was associated with a significantly slower progression to dementia among people with mild age-related cognitive declines, compared with nondrinkers.

Brain Booster No. 6: No More Multitasking

One of the biggest causes of failing to remember something, explains Small, is that “people aren’t paying attention.”

“As our brain ages, it’s more difficult to do several things at once,” says Plassman.

Multitasking thus becomes an impediment to remembering names, a recipe, or something you just read. That’s because the brain first has to encode information before it can retrieve the information as memory. Unless the brain is paying attention and taking in the information it will later need, the brain cannot encode the information.

Brain Booster No 7: Learning New Memory Tricks

Small, who also authored the best-selling book The Memory Bible, says he teaches a technique called “look, snap, connect” in which participants are taught how to focus on someone or something and make a connection that will help them remember.

“These kinds of techniques can be learned very quickly,” Small adds.

Long-practiced strategies such as linking a person’s name to something else or another person are also helpful, or using sound associations, says Plassman. Check your local library, senior center, or hospital to see whether free classes might be offered.

While age-related memory loss is typically minor, be on the lookout for more serious memory loss in yourself or a loved one. “Forgetting where you parked your car is one thing,” says Doraiswamy. “Forgetting that you have a car is another.”

If memory loss is making an impact in your everyday life or getting worse, consult with a doctor.

Also, try to laugh a little about the age-related memory loss while doing what you can to curb it. While the loss is real, it’s not as if you are losing control of your brain. The loss is relatively subtle, and in most cases, your brain still works like the incredible organ that it is.

“For many people, if you have a relatively good memory, forget about it,” says Doraiswamy. “Shooting for the impossible (the memory we enjoyed in youth, for example) only induces stress.”