Coping with memory loss: Keep your brain active and healthy, and know when to be concerned

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Atrophy, or shrinkage of the brain, happens to everyone as we age.

The human brain is amazing. This powerhouse controls everything going on in your body from A to Z. But as we age, what happens to our brain, and when should we be concerned?

Dr. Sanjeev Kumar, a neurologist with Lawrence Neurology Specialists, explained that atrophy, or shrinkage of the brain, happens to everyone as we age.

“There’s some slowing of memory with age, especially taking in new information,” he said. “Registration and recall can be slowed, but it isn’t wiped out. If you have a neurological disease, that shrinkage occurs at a faster rate.”

But how do you know the difference between normal age-related memory issues and a serious problem? The National Institute on Aging has shared the signs that it might be time to talk with a doctor include:

• Asking the same questions over and over.

• Becoming confused about people, time and places.

• Getting lost in places you know well.

• Having trouble following recipes or directions.

Some older adults have a condition such as mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, which is a state that falls between normal aging and dementia, resulting in more memory loss than expected for their age. Kumar explained that about 25% of people over age 80 experience some degree of MCI.

“If you have MCI, it’s important to know that in some cases, it can be reversible. It isn’t always a precursor to developing Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.

There are steps you can take now to help keep your brain healthy as you age. Getting enough exercise, sleep and eating a healthy diet can all go a long way.

“Any exercise is better than none at all, but the real benefit comes from cardiovascular activity. Aim to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week,” Kumar said. “Getting enough sleep is also vital. Memory consolidation occurs and toxins are cleaned from the brain with seven to nine quality hours of sleep each night.”

When it comes to diet, Kumar recommends following a heart-healthy diet, such as the MIND diet, which combines the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. Avoiding ultra-processed foods is key, as they can increase your risk of dementia by more than 25%.

“If you pick up something in the store that has more than five ingredients or has a shelf life of six to 12 months, don’t even buy it,” he said. “Eat whole grains, green leafy vegetables, and chicken and fish. Avoid fried foods, use olive oil for cooking and limit your salt and sugar intake.”

It’s also important to keep your brain active as you age. Mental exercise, stress reduction and spiritual fitness can also help stave off cognitive decline. Kumar gives some practical suggestions:

“Learn a new language or an instrument. Practice meditation, yoga, tai chi or deep breathing,” he said. “Increase your spiritual fitness by staying active in the community with social functions.”

While some memory issues result from neurological disease, others can occur from causes as simple as an infection or medication side effects. Talk with a doctor if you, a family member or a friend have concerns.

— Autumn Bishop is the marketing manager and content strategist at LMH Health.


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