Apparently we are experiencing an epidemic of premature memory loss. Scientists are now saying our memory begins to fade at 45 years of age rather than at 60 as was previously believed.
Unfortunately failing mid-life memory – the occasional slips which are referred to as Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) – could also be an early symptom of senile dementia. This brain disease is now striking people 10 years earlier than it did 20 years ago and is regularly being diagnosed in people in their 40s.
Half of those diagnosed with MCI go on to develop senile dementia. But half don’t so what makes the difference?
There seems to be no simple explanations. Some experts have blamed environmental pollution including exhaust fumes and pesticides. Others have blamed an over-reliance on technology, junk food and our lifestyles generally.
More people are referring themselves to doctors about memory problems. The vast majority suffer from what psychologists have called “security protection overload”. They feel overwhelmed by the numbers, codes and operating systems they need to know to function in a hi-tech environment.
Who hasn’t experienced ‘PIN amnesia’? It happened to me today as I used a credit card I don’t use very often. All my cards have different PINs which I remember pretty much all the time. The stress of getting it wrong and worrying about three strikes and out is enough to interfere with memory recall anyway.
People are using their memory less as they store information on their smartphones. And we’ve seen what happens when people over-rely on sat-navs and end up in a river. The brain is like a muscle. Use it or lose it!
We have to keep active and our brains active by doing new and different things. Keeping the blood flowing to our brains and making new connections through imagination and planning.
For those of us with middle-aged brains the upside is that we are generally calmer, less neurotic, better in social situations, wiser, and more contented. The Seattle Longitudinal Study, which has tracked the mental abilities of thousands of adults over the past 50 years, has found that middle-aged adults perform better on 4 out of 6 cognitive tests than they did as young adults.
And while middle-aged people can perform tests as well as young people in conditions of silence they are more distracted than them in noisy environments. This might also explain the “doorway amnesia” where we move from one room to another and forget why we are there. The movement breaks our concentration as we are distracted by new stimuli in the new room.
Forgetting is a healthy brain function. You don’t want your brain cluttered up by irrelevant information about previous events when you need to remember something today. People who can’t forget – it’s called hypermythesia – get confused.
Healthy brains allow us to recall information when we need it. The problem is that we don’t always retrieve it efficiently. Our library of information becomes less efficiently managed as we get older.
This post is based on an article in the Times Body and Soul segment which also suggests the following ways to protect your memory.
Walk for 30 minutes a day, three times a week. Regular exercise provides the brain with oxygen and nutrients.
Eat vegetables and nuts. We know mediterranean diets are good for us . Now nutritionists at Rush University Chicago have developed the MIND diet, a specially formulated brain-protecting diet.
Give up transfats. Found in burgers, biscuits and cakes. Designed to increase the shelf-life of food but not people.
Eat less sugar. Studies have shown that high blood glucose can damage brain function. Not to mention sugar ruins your teeth and makes you fat!
Lose weight. It’s not PC to use the F word but obesity is a killer and costs the country a fortune. Overweight people’s memory declines over 20% faster than people of normal weight.
Avoid cigarettes and beer. Middle-aged men drinking two-and-a-half pints of beer a day speed up their memory loss by 6 years. Smoking has also been linked to a faster decline in memory.
Drink strong coffee. Twice a day. It helps middle-aged people do short-term memory tests but appears to have no effect on young people. Caffeine also strengthens brain connections. So there you skinny decaff latte drinkers. Not good for you!
PS Brain training games don’t help. You might get better at the games but that’s all according the the Alzheimer’s society. Same goes for crosswords and Sudoku.