It's natural to feel nervous when you forget something, knowing that Alzheimer's disease now affects 5.3 million Americans. But a memory slip doesn't always mean the worst. According to KPHO, the following five situations point toward normal, age-related memory loss.
- Lapses Don't Interfere with Everyday Life
Slowed recall of information from time to time is normal -- erverybody forgets stuff. What's not normal is when memory impairment interferes with your ability to get through the day.
- You See an Improvement After “Brain Training”
Dementia is not a problem of retrieving old memories so much as it is is an inability to form new ones. If you can still learn new things, you're still forming new memories.
- You've Just Started a New Medication
Drug side effects are one of the more common causes of memory trouble.
- Nobody Else Seems to Notice Anything's Amiss
Usually, there's a lot of family friction around the kind of memory loss that predates a diagnosis -- arguments over who neglected to do something, missed appointments, or forgotten messages.
- You're Forgetful When Stressed, Sleep Deprived, or Multitasking
A stressed brain is not the same thing as a demented brain.
So-called "senior moments" happen to all of us… even those who are far from reaching their golden years. You forget where you parked your car, misplace your keys, are unable to recall the name of someone you met last week — all of these scenarios are part of life, and they're completely normal.
That said, your brain should not feel foggy all the time, nor should you be experiencing episodes of forgetfulness that are so severe they interfere with your ability to function normally.
I've often said that memory loss is not at all a "normal part of aging," and if you're feeling like your mind is truly slipping, it could be a sign of a more serious problem.
Brain Fart vs. Memory Loss: When Is It Serious?
Brain farts, or as neuroscientists call them "maladaptive brain activity changes," are those "oops" moments when you make a really obvious mistake.
These occur because your brain perceives many of your daily tasks as patterns, and may revert to its default mode network (DMN), the part of your brain responsible for your inward-focused thinking, such as daydreaming, during this time.
This can be a problem as the DMN competes, in a sense, with other areas of your brain for resources, and in order for you to carry out a task that requires focused attention, your brain must inhibit the DMN.
So if your brain takes a "time out" during a task that requires your full attention, a brain fart is likely to occur. In just the blink of an eye, you miss your exit driving home from work, send an important email to the wrong person, or forget what you went into the next room to grab.
Fortunately, DMN blips are typically short-lived, and once you realize you've made an error your brain will likely kick into overdrive to try and correct the mistake.
On the other hand, changes in your memory function could be a sign that your brain is on a gradual decline — and it's time for you to take action to protect and restore your cognitive function.
New Research Shows Mild Memory Loss Is Not Normal
While occasional slip-ups and forgetfulness are normal, mild memory loss is not.
Brain lesions have been associated with dementia and Alzheimer's disease for some time, but in a new study, researchers were surprised to discover that even very mild memory loss appears to be linked to the presence of the same type of damage seen in more serious cases of cognitive decline.
They concluded that even very mild changes in your cognitive function -- once thought to be a "normal" sign of aging -- is actually one of the first signs of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.
So what does this mean? If you notice that your mind is not as sharp as it used to be, don't ignore it -- take action to help reverse, or at least minimize, further damage.
6 Top Steps to Protect Your Brain Function
Your brain is actually a very moldable organ that can even rewire itself if given the proper tools. In fact, humans continue to make new neurons throughout life in response to mental activity.
So one of the simplest methods to boost your brain function is to keep on learning. The size and structure of neurons and the connections between them actually change as you learn.
This can take on many forms above and beyond book learning to include activities like traveling, mind-training activities, learning to play a musical instrument or speak a foreign language, or participating in social and community activities.
Next, you will want to be sure your lifestyle is conducive to a healthy brain, which includes:
- Eating Right
Studies have shown that elderly individuals who consume a healthy diet are less likely to suffer symptoms of dementia as they age.
Avoiding sugars and grains, and being mindful of eating foods that do not cause major spikes in your glucose levels, is very important if you want to optimize your health and maintain optimal brain function, regardless of your age.
In fact, insulin resistance and diabetes significantly increase your risk of dementia and Alzheimer's, which is why the dietary strategies that protect your brain are very similar to those for avoiding diabetes.
Regular exercise promotes essential cell and tissue repair mechanisms, including growth of new brain cells. In essence, exercise encourages your brain to work at optimum capacity by causing your nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage.
Previous research has also shown that a regular exercise program can slow the development of Alzheimer's disease by altering the way damaging proteins reside in your brain. So be sure you are taking part in an effective and comprehensive exercise regimen, like my Peak Fitness program.
- Omega-3 Fats
One of the most essential nutrients for your brain are omega-3 fats. A number of studies have shown that omega-3s can offer protection against cognitive deterioration.1
Several protective mechanisms have been suggested,2 including:
- Reducing inflammation in your brain
- Limiting the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques, which are a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease
- Influencing membrane functioning
- Regenerating nerve cells
Unfortunately, the ideal source of omega-3 -- fish -- is typically not a safe source anymore, as most fish are now severely contaminated.
This is why I recommend getting your omega-3 from a high-quality krill oil instead. In addition to being more absorbable than fish oil, it's also loaded with beneficial antioxidants and is clearly the most sustainable source of animal-based omega-3 on the planet.
It's during sleep that your mental energy is restored, and a lack of sleep may cause your brain to stop producing new cells. So read my guide to a good night's sleep to get your sleep schedule on track.
Optimizing your vitamin D levels through safe sun exposure, a safe tanning bed and/or vitamin D supplements is a must. Vitamin D plays a very important role in brain development and function, so get tested regularly to make sure you maintain healthy levels year-round.
Brain starvation is the hallmark of Alzheimer's and recent studies have shown quite phenomenal improvement with using coconut oil. While there are no studies indicating it works specifically for memory loss, based on this study and all the other benefits of coconut oil it would seem prudent to use it.
So remember, a minor "brain fart" is nothing to worry about, but if you really want to keep your mind sharp as a tack, you can ensure it'll stay that way by implementing the healthy brain strategies listed above.