Best Habits for Memory Loss, Says Physician
We've all been touched by memory loss. Whether personally (TBI, Post-COVID, Dementia) or someone we love. The thing is, there is a lot we can do if we are empowered with information. I trained in both psychiatry and neurology because all aspects of how we experience memory loss are important. This includes feeling depressed or anxious, to how we diagnose specifically what kind of memory loss we are experiencing, and what to do about it. In my experience, the more specific I can be with someone about what is going on with their memory, the better. Nobody likes feeling uncertain about something they are experiencing. Not knowing why memory is changing can be scary. Once we are given specific information, we can act, and do something about it. Autonomy and choice are central to being human. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
The first best habit to prevent memory loss is exercise. When we say exercise, we need to be a little more specific and say that it only counts if it's moderate exercise. To clarify, you have to feel out of breath, and it should be relatively hard to hold a conversation while you are doing whatever activity you enjoy. So, the activity does not matter, but being a little out of breath and having your heart rate elevated is important. This is what research has shown to be beneficial to your blood vessels that feed your brain. And building this habit to be at least 20 to 30 minutes five days a week is ideal, so work on adding this into your daily routine.
The second-best habit for preventing memory loss is diet. What you eat has a big impact on your health. You still have room for lots of variety, but some basic habits are healthier than others. You should eat a diet low in carbohydrates. What that means is you eat less rice, pasta, white potatoes, white bread, things that your body absorbs very quickly and provide a big burst of sugar in your bloodstream. Focus on eating healthier carbohydrates such as wheat bread, or brown rice if you desire. Then try to focus on eating more healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, and avoiding saturated fats such as lard. Try to eat less meat, even though summer barbecues are irresistible. Start with one thing at a time and make it a habit before you try to do too many things at once. Maybe you pick a way to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet by switching from regular soda to sparkling water or start eating plain yogurt instead of flavored yogurt. Take a look at the labels and pick one thing to work on. Once it's been a few weeks you can go on to the next thing.
Work on Your Social Connections
The third best habit is to look at how much time you spend with other people and make sure you have strong social connections. As we get older it's easy to spend less time with others and more time alone or with just one person near us. Think about the friendships that may have faded away and consider rekindling those. Social isolation is a major risk factor for memory loss and something we can easily fix. If you don't have any people from the past, you want to increase time with, then make sure you are going to places where you can meet new people and develop friendships. Maybe you go to a new gym regularly, or another place with get togethers for an activity you enjoy. Make a habit of regularly and meaningfully engaging with others at least three times a week and spending a good chunk of time with them.
Learn Something New
The fourth best habit is to always be learning something new. This could take the form of finding a new hobby to develop, learning a new musical instrument, or how to make something or build something. The key is when we are learning, our brain is forced to develop new connections and it's a form of exercise for the brain. Making a habit of spending 30 minutes a day practicing something new will help our brain stay strong. Reading is great, but for learning make sure you are reading something where you can also use it for active learning-not just passively reading information- but taking information and doing something with it where you commit it to memory. So maybe you like reading books about history, make a habit of taking notes and going back to test yourself to make sure you remember the information.
Cover Your Head
Another good habit to always have is taking safety precautions when doing activities. Specifically, we are trying to prevent head injuries. Always wear a helmet when riding a bike or a motorcycle, and using appropriate tools or assistive devices such as hiking poles if walking on uneven ground, etc. Whatever activity you are doing just ask yourself, is there a chance I might hit my head hard doing this? If the answer is yes think about what you can do to help protect yourself while still doing the things you love.
Visit Your Doctor Regularly
Finally, the best habit is to check in with your doctor regularly, and if you are over the age of 50 that means at least once a year. During these visits you want to make sure you ask about your mental health, where they can screen you for depression, anxiety or other symptoms that could contribute to memory loss. You want to make sure your blood sugars are OK and not leading towards diabetes, If you are smoking or drinking too much you want to work on quitting, they can also check regular tests to make sure that your cholesterol and blood pressure are OK. Is you hearing getting worse? If so, this is very important to address. Make a habit of always wearing your hearing aids when you are awake! Make sure you talk about these things with your doctor as there are many ways they can help you build new habits to address these risk factors for memory loss.
What You Should Do if You Notice Signs of Memory Loss
If you notice signs of memory loss, this can be hard to judge. As we get older it is normal to take a little longer to process things or do calculations but our ability to speak clearly, use our vocabulary, do math mentally should not get worse. Attention can also be a little harder as we get older. Sometimes we think we are forgetting people's names more than usual; this is usually an attention issue which if you make an effort you can remember names. Now, if despite your efforts and focus, these things are getting harder, then it is worth looking into. If you notice you are having a harder time remembering what you did the previous day, maybe repeating yourself to others, or asking the same questions again, then you should bring it up with your primary care provider. They will start with a basic screening with a cognitive test and go from there.
Last Word From Doctor
Just remember, this is a lot of information, and you've already built a good habit by being here to read something like this in the first place! Please focus on one thing at a time, do not try to make many changes all at once because habits form best when they happen one at a time. Take some notes and you can check on many of these things at your next doctor's visit. Also, ask your friends and family for advice because sometimes people who know you well will have good ideas for you. If you can spend the next year making progress on even just a few of these things, you will make a big impact for years to come. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.
Dr. Reza Hosseini Ghomi is a practicing neuropsychiatrist, focused on neurodegenerative disorders and is serving as Chief Medical Officer at BrainCheck.