Memory and Aging - Strategies and Foods That Improve and Increase Memory
Memory And Aging
Memory is the power of the mind to remember things or in other words, it is a person's power to remember things. Memory involves the retaining of information and the retrieval of this information when needed.
As one gets older in age, one experiences age-related memory loss or more appropriately forgetfulness which is the non-ability to sometimes recollect certain information and also retention of information. It is this memory loss or forgetfulness, related to ageing, that is the focus of this article.
It is to be understood here that normal ageing is not responsible for causing memory disorders like dementia etc, but is associated with a general decline in all faculties including that of the memory.
It has been found that as a person reaches the 20s, he starts losing brain cells (the white matter), and with increasing age, the number of brain cells lost keeps increasing, along with the decrease in the production of the chemical messengers (the neurotransmitters) needed by the brain cells to work optimally.
This contributes to the normal decline in memory that is a combination of our reduced thinking capacity as well as performing memory-related tasks.
There are a number of causes for this memory decline some of which are listed below.
Some Causes Of Memory Decline Or Forgetfulness
Apart from age-related memory loss or decline, there are some other causes that hasten or deepen this memory decline and it is important that these issues are also tackled so as to reduce and possibly avert this memory decline.
Physical and psychological issues like dehydration, infections, medication side effects, poor and deficient nutrition, substance abuse, chronic alcoholism, thyroid issues are some of them.
Some other reasons are that the hippocampus region of the brain, the area where the memories are formed and retrieved from deteriorates with age. Again, as we age, the blood flow to the brain decreases and the older a person gets, the less efficient his body gets at absorbing brain-enhancing nutrients.
However, the brain is capable of producing new brain cells at any age, so a significant memory loss is not related to ageing. But as is the case with muscles which degenerate and lose strength and function if not used, the brain loses its ability of storage and retrieval of information if it is not exercised regularly. Who has not heard of the adage "use it" or "lose it", so very relevant to the brain as well?
Strategies To Prevent Memory Decline
Research has suggested some strategies that can help retain memory and prevent memory decline and forgetfulness. These are described below.
Indulge In Regular Exercise - Physical and Mental
It has been found that physical exercise leads to improved blood circulation, reduces the risk of diabetes, high BP, cholesterol and stroke. All these factors can lead to memory loss as well as other serious memory disorders.
Also, regular exercise increases the levels of neurotrophins. These are a family of proteins that nourish brain cells, boost brain growth and help produce new brain cells.
So make a habit of walking, using the stairs rather than the elevator, gardening, swimming etc to help with the physical aspect of exercise.
Mental exercise stimulates the brain and it has been found to restore the impaired neurons within the brain and even help in reversing memory loss or forgetfulness and improve memory.
A game of chess, sudoku or learning a new language or skill will give the needed mental exercise.
Get Enough Sleep At Night
Sleep helps to rest the brain, keep it fresh and consolidates the memory. It leads to a reduction in stress due to tiredness, both physical and mental, bring more mental clarity. Thus after a good night's sleep, one feels refreshed. mentally and physically.
Sleep also helps in the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus and helps maintain its function and leads to the proper functioning of the memory process.
Smoking has been found to cause a loss in memory. It not only impairs lung function but also increases the risk of vascular disorders which can lead to stroke and constrict arteries. These lead to a reduction in oxygen available to the brain and cause issues like faster memory decline.
It has been found in research, in the Mac Arthur study, that social interaction with relatives, friends or people in general, improves the mental performance of older people.
Socializing wards off stress and depression and keeps the brain sharp and alert.
It is a well-established fact that alcohol damages the brain cells and is one of the factors in causing memory loss.
Stress releases cortisol, the stress hormone, which over a period of time damages the brain and leads to memory lapses and memory loss.
Eat A Healthy Diet
I saved this for the last, not because it is the least important but because this is the main focus of the hub as the title suggests and I needed to elaborate on foods pertaining to this aspect.
Foods That Increase Memory
A healthy diet has to have specific nutrients that affect memory in a positive way, hence the requirements of such nutrients. Here is a list of nutrients and foods that increase memory.
Antioxidants help to protect brain cells from age-related damage by attacking and eliminating free radicals.
Some antioxidant-rich foods are :
Flavonoids are phytochemicals for their antioxidant activity and are found to improve memory. Flavonoids include the flavonols, flavones, isoflavones, flavanones, flavonols and anthocyanidins.
Flavonoids enhance neuronal function, stimulate neuronal regeneration and protect existing neurons against oxidative and metabolic stress.
Some flavonoid-rich foods are :
- Fibre Rich Foods
Fibre is important to brain health since it regulates the absorption of sugar. The brain works on sugar and needs a steady supply for its smooth functioning (This aspect is elaborated in the following head). Fibre helps regulate sugar and thus is a very important nutrient for brain health.
Some fibre rich foods are ;
Glucose is very important since it is a major source of energy used by the central nervous system and is transported from the blood to the brain. It enhances memory by aiding the synthesis of an essential neurotransmitter in the brain.
As a person ages, the ability to utilize glucose decreases. Hence, a moderate increase in glucose levels is needed to enhance memory.
Therefore, eat meals frequently through the day to maintain moderate glucose levels.
- Omega-3 Fats, Mono and Poly Unsaturated Fats
Omega-3 fats, the EPA and DHA, and the unsaturated fats prevent age-related memory decline.
Some foods rich in these fats are :
- Vitamins C, E, B12, B6 and Folate, Iron, Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc Rich Foods
Some of these nutrients reduce homocysteine levels, some are building blocks for the brain and they keep the brain active, prevent memory decline and brain shrinkage.
Some foods rich in these nutrients are :
Flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, blueberries, blackcurrants, acai berries, raspberries, eggs, milk, yoghurt, liver, colourful fruits like cantaloupes, watermelon, avocados, plums, oranges, apples, grapes, cherries etc.
Though strictly not a nutrient, the importance of water for brain health can be judged from the fact that the brain is almost 75% water. When the body is dehydrated, the brain releases cortisol that shrinks the dendrites, the branches in the brain that store information. Cortisol also produces adrenaline. both cortisol and adrenaline affect the mental functions of the brain.
Therefore it is important to keep the body properly hydrated always to keep the memory sharp.
- Saturated Fats
Studies have shown that diets rich in saturated fats, trans fats and/or cholesterol impairs memory and cognition functions.
Consume less of saturated fats.
Intake of fewer calories reduces the neuronal dysfunction and degeneration while high-calorie diets also increase the risk of Alzheimer's.
Do not consume excess calories.
Gingko biloba and Ginseng are believed to improve memory in ageing adults.
Be sure to eat foods containing ample amounts of these nutrients every day to increase memory
To summarize the above, memory and ageing are directly linked and normal memory loss called forgetfulness occurs as we age.
However, there are certain factors within our control that if taken care of can not only slow down this memory decline but help to improve and increase memory.
Take care of them and you will be certainly rewarded.
The information provided in this hub is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult your physician, or health care provider before taking any home remedies, supplements or starting a new health regime.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2013 Rajan Singh Jolly