Top 5 things you can do to improve your memory and slow down or reverse Alzheimer’s
BUT FIRST – take this survey to assess your risk of developing dementia or other memory disorder
- Do I get LESS than 20-30 minutes of vigorous physical activity where I break a sweat or get winded/breathless (exercise, dancing, yard work, etc) at least 2 or more times a week? i.e., your answer is YES if you do NOT do this twice a week or more.
- Assuming I eat 20-21 meals in a week…do more than 7 of them include processed foods (white flour, sugars like pastry/bagels, boxed cereals, chips) or “fast food.”
- Do I weigh more than 10-15 lbs more than I did when I was 18 years old (assuming you weren’t overweight at age 18)? Am I overweight now?
- Do I sleep LESS than 6.5 hours per night?
- Do I wake up in the morning NOT feeling refreshed?
- Do I feel tired and/or sluggish throughout the day?
- Do I experience “brain fog”?
- Do I feel like my life is stressful or that I don’t have enough time for the things that I want to do?
- Am I taking medications for conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or pre-diabetes)?
- Am I NOT making an effort to learn a new skill most days of the week or am I actively seeking to get better at a skill I am already proficient in?
- Am I NOT regularly (more than once or twice a week) involved in social engagements with my family or friends? Examples of this include: at work in an office setting, caring for children or grandchildren, volunteering, having coffee/lunch dates/meetings with friends, hosting dinner parties, gathering and interacting at my local gym/community center/place of worship, playing cards, online interactions with more than one person at a time, or going shopping with friends, etc)
- Am I forgetting to pay bills or take medications on time?
- Am I getting lost while out driving, or slightly disoriented on what used to be familiar routes?
- Am I forgetting how to do familiar tasks or how to use familiar appliances or electronics (like washing machine, computer, DVD/VCR) that were once easy for me?
- Do those I have closer relationships with tell me that I repeat the same stories or ask the same questions?
- Am I forgetting names of things, but feel like the words are on the tip of my tongue?
if you answered YES to 3 or more of these questions then you probably want to get more serious about structuring your life to employ the following prevention strategies (or at least some of them if you’re doing it already).
The Top 5 Ways to Prevent Alzheimer’s and improve your memory
Here are some scientifically informed brain basics that everyone should be applying to their lives. Whether you are having brain dysfunction or want to proactively prevent it – these apply to you! Some are obvious, others are less obvious when you read the fine print.
1) Move your body. Call it exercise, movement, or whatever you want. The bottom line here is to get your heart rate up – ask your doctor if this is safe for you – beyond its normal beating rate. Working up a sweat is great for most people too! We are learning that the body and the brain are one system (who woulda thunk it!?) and that what is good for the body is almost always good for the brain. The best strategies are to exercise with moderate intensity 3 or more times per week or some sort of high intensity interval training. Next best is lower intensity exercise. Try walking 5-6 times a week for 20-45 minutes. My personal favorite is dancing. Some people enjoy swimming, basketball, yoga, zumba…whatever it is… just get moving!
2) Exercise your brain. Cognitive stimulation. This can get a little too technical but the best thing you can do for your brain is to be learning new things for some portion of each and every day. The internet is a great way to start because there are unlimited things to explore depending on your preference. Playing cards (even online) is actually quite a good way to get going, e.g., Bridge, Pinochle, and other games. Learn a new language. Get better with computers. Travel. Start writing or painting. Even getting together with friends, particularly in groups of more than two. All of these are great ways to build a better brain. If you are into computerized brain games, BrainHq.com and Lumosity.com seem to be gaining some traction to improve certain types of memory.
3) Be aware of what you eat. This is the easiest one to recommend and often the most challenging to do. Basically, you want to eat “around the edges” of the supermarket. The edges are typically where the fresh, real foods are. Buy things that can’t stay on your shelves without refrigeration for very long. We will talk more about things like phytonutrients, brain foods, and advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in future posts. But for now, eat 4-5 colors with each meal (white and brown are one color!). Stay away from highly processed foods with white flour and sugar. The more vegetables the better (check with your doctor if you are on any medications, especially blood thinners). Check out Grain Brain and Brain Maker by Dr David Perlmutter if you haven’t already.
4) Manage stress. For some reason in this age of abundance and technology so many of us seem to be living by the seat of pants and under duress. If this is an issue, and you know who you are (authors included), learn to slow down at regular points in your day. Any form of meditation or mindfulness will do. Exercise will help. The easiest solution we know is to take five deep breaths in a row. Inhale for five counts. Hold your breath for five counts and exhale for five counts. Repeat that five times. We have personally seen this bring down people’s blood pressure 10-20 points on the top within in 30-60 seconds. (just personal observations not from the data). There are more advanced solutions like Heartmath (heart rate variability technology) that we will talk more about in the future.
5) Emphasize quality sleep – This is a really interesting one. It is now being suggested that sleep disorders can be an early sign of dementia. But by no means does this mean you have dementia just because you may have trouble sleeping. In general you should be getting between 6.5-8 hours of sleep. You shouldn’t have too much trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. If you are a big snorer, restless sleeper, wake up choking, or simply wake up still feeling tired even after 8 hours…it’s worth some more investigation. Check out the works of Drs Rachel Salas at Johns Hopkins and Penelope “Penny” Lewis to investigate your own issues to determine deeper causes for sleep disturbance and what to do about it. .
As mentioned we will do a much deeper dive on these issues in future articles…so please stay tuned or read on!
FINALLY – A PLUG FOR OUR HEALTHCARE PRACTITIONERS
If you think your problems are beyond what we covered here (and even if not) I strongly urge you to visit your local doctor and likely a memory specialist, a neurologist or geriatrician, for some formal testing.
According to the latest scientific evidence it is probably worth getting some blood work, brain imaging, and possibly neuropsychological testing to see where you’re at and put together a program to get you feeling better. Our podcast goes into practical details for a lot of this.
Disclaimer: this article is for general information purposes only. It is not medical advice nor does it in any way substitute for an evaluation by a licensed healthcare professional.