HAVE you been forgetting where you put your keys lately? Have you been experiencing trouble remembering names? Many menopausal women complain of fuzzy thinking, forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating; some even wonder if this is the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease. But don’t worry, you are most likely not losing your mind!
Neurologist and author of The Better Brain Book Dr David Pelmutter, says that by age 40, about two thirds of people experience some mental decline. This slowdown in mental function typically begins with mild memory problems or “fuzzy thinking”. By age 65, one out of every 100 people will have symptoms of dementia such as confusion and severe forgetfulness. By age 75, that number increases to one in 10. According to the National Institute on Aging, about half of the persons age 85 and older may have Alzheimer’s disease. It is important to note, however, that Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging.
This mental decline occurs for the same reason the rest of the body ages — cells lose their ability to recover from damage, in particular that done by free radicals. This process is accelerated by eating nutrient-poor foods, lack of physical exercise, insufficient sleep, environmental toxins, stress and head trauma.
In the book Female and Forgetful, authors Elisa Lottor and Nancy Bruning state that women suffer a greater aging-related loss of brain tissue in areas of the brain related to memory, visual and spatial abilities. Women undergo a sharp drop in hormones at menopause and also after giving birth. The sharp drop in hormones around the time of menopause is one of several causes of the acute worsening of memory and attentiveness. In addition, stress, medication, chronic fatigue, depression, low blood sugar, nutritional deficiencies and thyroid hormone imbalances contribute to the memory loss experienced by many women.
How to keep your mind fit
Until recently, scientists were convinced that once we attained adulthood, our brains became fixed, no longer capable of growing new cells. However, landmark research published in the journal Annals of Neurology in 2002, showed that adult mice placed in mentally stimulating environments grew new brain cells. The same appears to hold true for humans. London taxi drivers given brain scans by scientists at University College London had a larger hippocampus compared with other people. This is a part of the brain associated with navigation in birds and animals. The scientists also found part of the hippocampus grew larger as the taxi drivers spent more time in the job. “There seems to be a definite relationship between the navigating they do as a taxi driver and the brain changes,” said Dr Eleanor Maguire, who led the research team. This is vivid proof that even as adults, we can change our brains.
Stay mentally active
Research suggests that we need to exercise our brain in order to slow its decline. The brain needs to be exposed to new challenges that exercise its different parts. If you break your routine in a challenging way, you are using brain pathways not previously used. This can involve something as simple as brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand. This activates seldom used connections on the non-dominant side of your brain.
Here are a few suggestions:-
*To maintain and improve reasoning skills; do riddles, sudoku, debate issues with friends, read a book.
*For verbal skills; solve word games like crossword puzzles, word jumbles or play Scrabble; learn a new language.
*To increase memory play a card game, commit to memory some important phone numbers (with modern technology we no longer have to remember phone numbers and other important data and that may not be so good for us in the long run!)
*For visual and auditory processing listen to books on tape, play an instrument.
*To maintain co-ordination and dexterity learn a new skill like crocheting , play a sport that requires hand-eye co-ordination.
*Take advantage of planners, shopping lists and address books to keep routine information accessible. At home designate a place for your glasses, keys and other frequently used items.
*When you want to remember something you have just heard or thought about, repeat it out loud. For example, if you have just been told someone’s name, use it when you speak with him or her: “So Mary, where did you meet Bill?”
Get physically active
Mental fitness requires physical fitness. Getting your body moving increases the flow of blood and oxygen to brain cells. Research has shown that exercise increases brain volume in the elderly and can reverse some normal age-related deterioration of brain structure. Physical exercise significantly lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, thereby reducing some risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.