June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 5.8 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2020. As we age, it is common to have some memory loss or age associated memory impairment due to the deterioration of our hippocampus, which is the region of the brain responsible for the formation and retrieval of memories. Although we may lose some of our memory as we get older, our brain is able to produce new brain cells at any age. Dr. Billy Yung, Westmed neurologist, has six simple tips to help improve your cognitive skills and prevent memory loss.
- Maintain a Healthy Diet
- Smoking Cessation and Avoid Drinking Alcohol to Excess
- Keep Your Mind Active
- Maintain a Sleep Schedule
- Preventing Brain Injury or Trauma
Eat foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna and nuts. Berries contain antioxidants, which have been found to have numerous positive effects on the brain. Berries that are rich in antioxidants include blueberries, strawberries and blackberries. Dark leafy greens, such as kale and spinach, also support brain health because they contain other key vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants.
Regular physical exercise benefits not only your heart, but your brain as well! Exercise can reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease that can lead to memory loss. Try aerobic exercises or activities that require hand-eye coordination like jumping rope.
Excessive alcohol consumption has been shown to increase memory loss. Smoking can lead to vascular disorders that limit oxygen to the brain. If you smoke, it is recommended you stop for so many reasons (including brain health). And if you drink, limit your daily intake of alcohol to 1 to 2 drinks.
Brain boosting activities challenge your mind to break away from your habitual way of thinking and develop new neural pathways. You can also learn something new to stimulate your brain and memory – like learning how to play an instrument or how to speak a foreign language. Puzzles and reading are also a great way to keep your mind active.
It is very important to maintain a regular sleep schedule and reduce blue light exposure emitted from TVs, mobile devices and computers at least one hour before going to bed. Additionally, avoid caffeine intake close to bedtime.
For young people, the major cause of brain injury is from trauma, such as concussions. It is important to protect the brain by wearing helmets when appropriate, such as when riding a bike, skating, skiing.
For older patients, we worry more about strokes (clots or bleeding in the brain). Risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, cigarette smoking. Seeing your primary care doctor to manage and prevent these issues would help prevent brain disease.
If you suffer from memory loss and feel it is affecting your ability to function and carry out normal activities, you should consult your primary care physician. Your physician will be able to assess your symptoms, recommend appropriate care options and help with identifying reversible causes of memory loss.