By Dr. Mercola
Are forgetfulness and "senior moments" inevitable parts of aging? Many medical professionals (including the doctor in CNN's news brief above) say it's perfectly normal to start having memory lapses by the time you reach middle age.
I disagree. In fact, if you notice memory lapses, you may want to seriously consider making some immediate lifestyle changes to help reverse, or at least minimize further damage that might lead to dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
Fortunately, your brain is actually quite resilient, and has the capacity to regenerate and repair itself, which is given the medical term neuroplasticity. This is new information and not what I was taught in medical school in the late '80s.
You'll find that many of the lifestyle changes that will help prevent diabetes will also improve your brain function. There's good reason for this, as sugar can have an adverse effect on your memory even if you're otherwise healthy.
Increasing amounts of research also attest to the power of exercise to keep your mind sharp. Other factors that can have a significant impact on your brain function include lifestyle factors such as stress and poor sleeping habits.
The One Part of Your Brain That Appears to Be Protected Against Aging
Interestingly, recent research1 shows that certain cognitive systems located in the right cerebral hemisphere, such as spatial attention, mysteriously appear to be protected from the ravages of aging.
"Our studies have found that older and younger adults perform in a similar way on a range of visual and non-visual tasks that measure spatial attention," said lead author Dr. Joanna Brooks.
"Both younger (aged 18 to 38 years) and older (55 to 95 years) adults had the same responses for spatial attention tasks involving touch, sight or sound."
The question is why? Understanding why certain brain regions are more protected than others may eventually lead to greater insight into brain degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. That said, there's no need to wait for a medical miracle. You already have the power to improve your memory and other brain functions.
The Influence of Stress
When it comes to brain function, stress is an important factor that can have a direct effect. For example, one recent animal study found that higher levels of stress hormones can speed up short-term memory loss in older adults.2
In a nutshell, the stress hormone cortisol has a corrosive effect that, over time, wears down the synapses responsible for memory storage and processing. Previous research3 has also linked chronic stress with working memory impairment.
Other recent research suggests that stress may even speed up the onset of more serious dementia known as Alzheimer's disease, which currently afflicts about 5.4 million Americans, including one in eight people aged 65 and over.4
While it's virtually impossible to eliminate all stress from your life, there are tools you can use that will allow your body to effectively compensate for the bioelectrical short-circuiting that takes place when you're stressed or anxious.
My favorite tool for stress management is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). It's an energy psychology tool that can help reprogram your body's reactions to everyday stress, thereby reducing your chances of developing adverse health effects.
In the following video, Julie Schiffman demonstrates how to tap for anxiety and overwhelm first thing in the morning, to help you start your day in a more relaxed state.
There's no doubt that Alzheimer's disease is fast becoming a concern on many people's minds. One quick and pain-free way to assess your risk is to take the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE) test. It's a 15-minute at-home test developed by Douglas Scharre, M.D., of the Division of Cognitive Neurology at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center.30, 31 You can download the SAGE test from the University's website.32 According to Dr. Scharre, this simple test correlates very well to more comprehensive cognitive tests, and is an excellent way to get an early assessment of your cognitive function. If taken at intervals over time, it can also serve as an early warning, if your scores begin to decline.