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Forgetfulness or dementia? How to tell

February 17, 2017
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

As we grow older, we all have to contend with a tough fact of life—our memory and cognitive function will begin to diminish. We’ll forget where we put the keys more often, confuse names of people, and forget that last ingredient we need to buy for dinner. That’s nothing to get upset about—it’s unfortunate, but natural. However, dementia is a different beast. Dementia isn’t the normal wear-and-tear that your brain suffers, but instead a dysfunction. Knowing the difference is key in knowing how to combat it. And there’s a lot we can do to combat memory loss, and keep our brains in tip-top shape as long as possible.

How To Take Care Of Your Brain

First things first—relax.

Seriously. Stress and worry actively interferes with your mind’s ability to function properly. Cortisol—the stress hormone—interferes with your brain’s ability to recall memories.

You may have experienced this if your mind ever went blank during a test. That was cortisol attaching to parts of your hippocampus and amygdala, two important regions in the brain that affect memory.

Ironically, cortisol appears to actually help you lock in memories when you are learning—but does the opposite when you are trying to remember. And chronic stress—with the accompanying chronic overabundance of cortisol—leads to poor memory.

Luckily, there are plenty of safe supplements out there which can actively combat stress, and simultaneously help improve your memory.

I personally take a supplement with phosphatidylserine (PS), a compound found in cow brains, Atlantic mackerel, chicken hearts and soybeans. Studies have shown time and again that it improves recall. You’ll start to notice a difference if you take a supplement that contains at least 100 milligrams.

I also take a related compound, called phosphatidylcholine, which not only improves memory, but enhances all cognitive functions and even improves concentration. That’s because choline is an important ingredient in all your brain cells. You should take at least 420 milligrams a day to see results.

Finally, ashwagandha is an extract that both improves cognitive function—especially memory, and spatial thinking—while it also calms you, and “cleans out your brain” by acting as an antioxidant. 250 milligrams, daily, will make a difference.

But above all, take care of yourself, and practice relaxing. That can mean anything—from yoga, to breathing exercises, to drinking a nice cup of green tea.

Green tea can also help your memory all by itself. The active ingredient in green tea—a chemical with a long name shortened to EGCG—has been shown in studies to boost recall. And if you’re not a fan of tea, you can get similar benefits from green tea extract in a supplement.

So, if you want to increase your brain’s memory power, consider taking some green tea extract daily. Or, better yet, drink green tea itself.

Just don’t drink it too late. Because green tea contains caffeine—albeit much less than coffee. And that caffeine can keep you up at night.

And, chronic lack of sleep is a sure-fire way to damage your memory. When you are tired, all the processes involved in learning and memory perform poorly. Undoubtedly, you’ve experienced this yourself.

What’s more, sleep is the time when your brain consolidates and forms memories. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, anything you learned the previous day is likely to go up in smoke.

If none of the above work, try working with your doctor to replace or eliminate unnecessary medications from your life. I had a patient who complained of memory problems. I took him off his anti-anxiety and sleeping pills, and within two days, he noticed a huge improvement.

And make sure you’re eating right! Sometimes, memory problems can simply be nutrition problems. Fill your plate with fruits and veggies, and you’ll take care of a whole host of vitamins and nutrients that your brain needs to function properly.

Spotting The Difference Between Memory Loss and Dementia

Sometimes, none of the above makes a difference in sharpening your memory. But, again, before you panic, that can mean different things.

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Chronic Inflammation Decoded

For instance, an emotional or psychological problem—like depression—can affect your memory.

Dementia comes in many forms, but if you’re truly living with dementia (and not just age-related memory loss) here are a few tell-tale signs to watch out for.

For instance, forgetting where you put your keys is normal. After age 45, we all will experience lapses like this.

But forgetting what your keys are for, or forgetting how to use them, is a sign of something more serious.

Likewise, forgetting where you parked your car or directions to a restaurant is nothing to worry about. But if you are getting lost in familiar territory, you might have a more serious problem.

Generally speaking, if you are forgetting details, it’s perfectly natural. Even confusing the names of people you know well isn’t a bad sign.

But if you are losing broad categories, or confusing the word for toaster with the word for iron, you may have something more serious going on.

If you are suffering from memory loss and you take the above-mentioned supplements and make lifestyle changes, you should notice a difference in six to eight weeks.

With dementia, you aren’t likely to see meaningful improvement. And the condition will steadily worsen.

If you find yourself in that situation, you should sit down with your doctor and have a frank discussion.

There may be something you’re missing. Or, you may have a form of dementia.

While there is no cure for dementia, the good news is that there are treatments that can slow or even arrest its progress. So the sooner you see the doctor, the better.

But don’t immediately assume the worst. Make use of the supplements I’ve mentioned. Find your inner zen, and calm your mind to let it work its best. And make sure you eat healthy meals and get healthy sleep.

In most cases, you’ll see a near-immediate increase in your memory. These simple steps can be absolutely life-changing.



Where’s your memory going?


As we get older, lapses in memory and cognitive function are nearly inevitable. And while they may foreshadow serious brain conditions—Alzheimer’s or dementia among them—they can often be corrected with some nutritional support, stress relief and good sleep habits. Read on and learn the difference between age related memory loss and dementia…and the simple, natural ways you can help slow or prevent both.

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