There is a lot of recent research about how to ward off memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. The solution that comes up most often is keeping your brain active by making an ongoing effort to learn new things. One key notion that comes up in ALL research, though, is that whatever you do to keep your brain young, you have to put forth regular effort. You don’t want to wait until the later stages of your life to start implementing your strategies. Here are some details on the latest research, along with things you can do (and things you shouldn’t do) to reduce your risk of memory loss.
Active brains have fewer deposits of Alzheimer’s protein
A new study by Dr. William Jagust of the University of California, Berkeley was published earlier this year and indicates that people who challenge their brains throughout their lifetimes have fewer deposits of beta-amyloid, a destructive protein in the brain that has been linked with Alzheimer’s. Challenging your brain can be in any variety of forms, including reading, writing, playing games, and mastering puzzles.
In my previous post, Learn, Grow, Change: What’s Your Uncharted Territory?, I gave you several different ways you can expand on your current interests and find new hobbies. That is all this new study is advocating – just doing and learning something different. Even if you already do some of those things, it’s good for your brain to mix things up a bit. If you’re an avid reader, try your hand at journaling. If you like crossword puzzles, take a look at other word puzzles. I like the ones at usatoday.com. USA Today is my favorite crossword, but they also have lots of other word puzzles and games that will really exercise your brain. If you like the puzzles there, you might check out this book, USA TODAY Jumbo Puzzle Book 2: 400 Brain Games, which has a huge variety of USA Today puzzles – a great way to give your brain an all-around workout.
Overeating linked to memory loss
It may surprise you to learn that a new study released last month showed that people who overeat nearly double their risk of memory loss. The study’s author, Yonas E. Geda, MD, MSc, with the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, said the study’s conclusions showed, “the higher the amount of calories consumed each day, the higher the risk of MCI [Mild Cognitive Impairment]”. MCI is not normal memory loss that is associated with aging, but it is more serious memory loss that is the step before Alzheimer’s Disease.
Yet another reason to cut calories and maintain a healthy diet! If you are interested in ways to make your favorite foods healthier, see my article, The Wellness Burger: Tips To Turn Your Favorite Foods Into Healthy Choices. You can also learn more about how many calories you should consume using the Calorie Calculator tool at the Mayo Clinic’s website.
Dr. Geda’s study focused on senior citizens who consumed more than 2100 calories per day. They were the study participants who saw an increased risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment. It is never too early to create a healthier diet, though, and the calorie calculator can help you determine how many calories you should be getting per day, based on your age, height, weight, and other individual factors. It’s a great place to start to get a firm grasp on how much you should really be eating.
Sleeping more may protect you from memory loss
This is another surprising new study result that just came out in February. The study’s author, Yo-El Ju, M.D., from the University School of Medicine, St. Louis explained, “Disrupted sleep appears to be associated with the build-up of amyloid plaques,” which is a classic marker of Alzheimer’s Disease. This happened in the brains of people who otherwise had no memory problems. In other words, people that were presently having no problems, were having a build up of this plaque in their brains that may affect their memory and also their risk of Alzheimer’s – just from disrupted sleep!
The key here is not about whether you get enough sleep, but rather whether your sleep is disrupted. If you are someone who tosses and turns during the night, or if you wake up frequently, you may want to make some changes.
Try setting a lower temperature in your bedroom, since you need a lower body temperature in order to sleep. Also, make sure you use the restroom before going to sleep if you tend to wake up for that purpose. Make an effort to create a sleeping environment that allows you to sleep deeply. Turn off alarm clocks with glaring lights, ringers on phones, and anything else that might disturb you. It’s not just about sleep, it’s about sleeping well!
Ward off dementia with a bilingual brain
A researcher from York University, Dr. Ellen Bialystok, found that being bilingual can also offer protection from the symptoms of dementia. One of her key findings was that the brain’s need to monitor two languages in order to select the appropriate one “exercises” brain regions that are vital for cognitive control (your ability to process information in a way that is adaptive to current goals, as opposed to staying rigid and inflexible). When those regions get exercised, they get strengthened, and a stronger brain is better equipped to keep dementia away.
If you already know two languages, that’s great! Try to make efforts to converse in both languages, so that your brain is continually challenged to apply a different language in different settings.
If you studied a foreign language in school, how much do you think you remember? You can pick up a book at the library to refresh your memory, or even use learnalanguage.com to learn new words and phrases. You may not become fluent, but any work you do to keep exercising your brain will help.
In many cities you can even find language clubs, where you can meet with others to practice your new skills. You can easily find these sorts of groups at meetup.com. There are different ways to work at learning a new language, and the more you use it, the stronger your brain will be.
Just writing this article has made me want to pick up crossword puzzles again! I rarely do them anymore, and I used to do them all the time. What about you? What changes might you make today to keep your brain young for years to come? Let me know your ideas in the comments!