According to the 2015 World Alzheimer's Report, memory loss - and Alzheimer's Disease specifically - is the most significant social and health concern of the twenty-first century. With all the money spent on research, the one factor that everyone agrees on is that you want to focus on prevention and supporting overall brain health as much as you can, because there are really no prescription medications that work once memory loss becomes a problem.
How is Memory Loss Diagnosed?True memory loss is difficult to diagnose. Most people have moments of forgetfulness. The challenge is knowing when those moments become too frequent or signify a deeper problem. Tools that are used to diagnose memory loss include:
- Observation. Paying attention to those moments of forgetfulness and determining whether or not they are concerning is generally the first step. Family and friends can be helpful in identifying a problem.
- Questionnaires are often used by health professionals as a way of determining whether or not concerns of memory loss indicates an underlying pathology.
- Lab tests can help to identify metabolic conditions that contribute to memory loss such as chronic inflammation, high blood sugar or signs of chronic stress.
- Electroencephalography is generally reserved when an underlying problem is suspected.
- Brain scans are not very accurate at determining memory loss or dementia, but can identify if an underlying brain pathology is contributing to signs of memory loss.
It is important to remember that forgetting is, in some ways, healthy. Also, memories are a strange thing. They can be implanted, rehearsed, refurbished and modified over time. Not all memories are real and sometimes forgetting is the natural way that the body "prunes" memories that are not required or not accessed frequently.
It is also natural for accessing memories, words or events to take longer as you age. The struggle sometimes is determining whether or not signs of memory loss are natural or indicate a deeper problem.
Factors That Contribute to Memory Loss
Memory loss is not inevitable. There are a number factors that contribute to memory loss and many of them are things that you can easily address with lifestyle and dietary changes. Environmental factors require more effort both from an assessment perspective and treatment approach. Some of the common factors include:
- Over-medication and drug interactions
- Environmental toxins including heavy metals, environmental chemicals, proximity to cell-phone towers and the growing impact of wireless networks.
- Chronic dehydration
- Vitamin and nutritional deficiencies
- Diet high in sugar or simple carbohydrates
- Alcholism or excessive drinking
- History of frequent falls, head injuries or difficulty with balance
- History of recreational drug use
- History of chronic insomnia or poor sleeping patterns
- Excessive depression, stress or anxiety
- Multi-tasking and being active but not attentive
- Underlying infections
- Chronic conditions such as thyroid imbalances, diabetes or heart disease
- Chronic inflammation
- Family history of cognitive impairment, stroke, Parkinson's disease or dementia - especially if the onset was before the age of 60.
Your naturopathic doctor can assist in determining the best treatment options to address each factor that is relevant for you.
How Do You Prevent Memory Loss
For many people, memory loss can be prevented or at least delayed and slowed down. The key is to address the factors that are relevant to you and to follow these simple steps:
- Stay active. Ongoing movement ensures adequate blood flow to the brain. It also helps to flush out toxins. Staying active is essential, not only for memory loss but every other health condition.
- Get adequate deep sleep. Sleep is essential to health. If you are struggling with your sleep, talk to your naturopathic doctor.
- Challenge your brain. Use-it-or-lose-it really does apply to cognitive health. Use your brain in as many ways as possible - solve puzzles, take a class, play board games, play cards, read, be creative and learn something new. There are a number of on-line programs that can also help. My favorite is www.lumosity.com
- Stay engaged. Socialization is really important. Dementia is strongly associated with isolation and loneliness. The mind needs to engage with others. If you don't share those memories and stories you will lose them a lot faster.
- Healthy nutrition. Nutritional deficiencies will always make memory loss worse. Your naturopathic doctor can assist in determining if you are eating adequate nutrients and if you are able to properly digest and metabolize them.
- Address underlying problems. Working with your naturopathic doctor to assist in the detoxing those environmental toxins and/or properly healing from head trauma, concussions and other factors that may be affect your memory over time.
Other treatment recommendations that your naturopathic doctor may recommend include:
- Antioxidants - there are specific antioxidants that cross the blood-brain-barrier and can assist in "cleaning up" the brain. Some common ones include: l-Carotine, melatonin, glutathione.
- Anti-inflammatories - if chronic inflammation is a problem, then it is important to include supplements that will decrease inflammation. Turmeric, or Curcuma longa has been found to be effective in the prevention of dementia.
- Omega- fatty acids - the brain is primarily fat. Ensuring adequate healthy fats, such as Omega-3 Fatty Acids is essential.
- Herbal remedies - there are a number of herbal remedies and gemmo-therapies that can assist with cognitive function including: Ginkgo (Gingko biloba), Turmeric (Curcuma longa) and Ginseng (Panax ginseng) and Gemmotherapies such as Alnus glutinosa
- Other therapies - acupuncture, homeopathy and other naturopathic therapies may also be beneficial.
The bottom line is to take a look at your life and determine whether or not you are at risk of memory loss. Prevention is the key. Once memory loss is really apparent it is difficult to reverse. For those that are young, I strongly encourage you to have our environmental burden assessed and addressed. If you have a history of contact sports it is important to be on an anti-inflammatory and to address any postural alignment concerns. If you know that your lifestyle is not great then start there. There is a lot that can be done - but, you want to start before symptoms become too severe.