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Carole Carson: Nine ways to protect your memory

By Carole Carson | Submitted to The Union

My husband jokingly told me he thought maybe I was religious because I kept talking about the hereafter, as in, “What did I come in here after?”

If, like me, you find yourself walking into a room wondering what you came for, be assured you are not alone. Common to individuals of any age, what we are experiencing is the “doorway effect.”

Indeed, researchers found that walking through a doorway resets memory. Recent temporary memories are discarded, hence the puzzling problem of not remembering what we came into a room for.



Ongoing research on how the brain records, processes, utilizes, stores and retrieves vast quantities of information is being conducted under the umbrella of the national BRAIN Initiative. Until we get the benefit of the research, however, we still have the practical problem of how to preserve our own unique memory capability.

THE GENETICS OF MEMORY

Dr. Todd Bouchier, a primary care physician in Grass Valley, reminds us that our memory capabilities, like our hair, skin and eye color, are inherited.



On the positive side, for example, a person with hyperthymesia can recall events on any date with exact details. And an individual with an eidetic memory, or photographic memory, can recall an image after seeing it for only a short time. I worked with someone with an eidetic memory at the University of California. She was a walking file cabinet, quickly able to recite any and all correspondence she’d ever read. Impressive!

On the negative side of genetics, the tendency for developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is also inherited.

PRESERVING MEMORY

Whatever our genetic disposition, however, the following health habits can help preserve our inheritance:

1. Practice good nutrition: Excess weight is linked to diabetes, a condition that doubles the risk of developing dementia. Eating less sugar is recommended because higher blood sugar levels are linked to memory loss.

Today’s Dietitian reports that a “Mediterranean diet offers a protective effect on brain health and is correlated with a decreased rate of cognitive decline and a lower risk of cognitive impairment.” The Mediterranean diet recommends plant foods, limited meat consumption, moderate use of alcohol and the use of olive oil as the primary fat source.

2. Stay active: Regular exercise can reduce the risk of memory loss. According to Harvard researchers, “moderate-intensity exercise can help improve your thinking and memory in just six months.”

3. Get plenty of sleep: Sleep is required to consolidate and store memories so they can be accessed later. Sleep deprivation, especially from apnea, triggers cognitive decline. And the number one symptom of sleep deprivation is memory loss.

4. Stop smoking: Smoking increases cognitive decline, including the memory function. In fact, smokers are 30% more likely to develop dementia.

5. Limit alcohol consumption: According to medical researchers at Harvard, besides risking a blackout, people who drink excessive amounts of alcohol (14 drinks per week for men, 7 for women) have an increased risk of developing dementia.

6. Keep learning: Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt and develop cognitive reserves, and lifelong learning is an important factor in maintaining it. Just as exercise benefits the body, learning exercises benefit the brain.

Our brain needs new challenges, like learning to play an instrument, paint, or acquire a new language, to preserve and even enhance memory. (I’m studying French.)

7. Wear a seat belt: Traumatic brain injuries from a car accident or even a fall can damage memory.

8. Check your medications, Vitamin D level, blood pressure, thyroid and hearing: Some symptoms of cognitive deterioration, such as memory loss, can be reversed by addressing the underlying cause. Various infections and diseases, including bladder infections, can also trigger memory loss.

9. Be happy, have fun and socialize: Researchers who studied super-seniors who demonstrated the memory performance of young adults found that they had a high score on socialization. The theory is that connections to family and friends reduce the risk of dementia.

Although the above list might seem daunting, most of the recommendations are commonsense ones that we are already trying to follow.

The good news, moreover, is that the more we practice health habits that protect the brain, the more cognitive reserve we can rely on should memory deterioration begin.

Naomi Klein, award-winning journalist and author, said, ”One shouldn’t gamble with what is irreplaceable and precious.” Surely, memory falls into that category. Take steps now to improve and maintain this precious possession.

Carole Carson, Nevada City, is an author, former AARP website contributor, leader of the 1994 Nevada County Meltdown and guest speaker for The Union’s Longevity Project on Saturday. She can be reached at carolecarson41@gmail.com.

ABOUT THIS SERIES

This is the third of a three-part series on memory.

THE LONGEVITY PROJECT EVENT

What: Virtual Zoom event from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday

More info: The Longevity Project is a virtual event that celebrates living a long, healthy life. Hear stories from those who are living long and healthy lives and how they are still thriving. Also learn from experts on what you can do to bring longevity to your life. Topics include: Quigong and tai chi with Homer Nottingham; brain health with Carole Carson; dental health with Dr. Sean Rockwell; nutrition with Kelly Hull of Dignity Health; and emotional health with Keith Thompson of Anew Day.

Register: To learn how you can live a long healthy life, sign up at: http://www.theunion.com/longevity

Carole Carson
photo by Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com

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