Everyone has a brief memory lapse from time to time. Perhaps you’ve forgotten your PIN number, the name of someone you’ve met in the supermarket or even where you parked your car, left your keys or glasses! Brief memory lapses are experienced by people of all ages but might become more frequent in the elderly and might cause concern that they’re showing the first symptoms of Dementia.
As we get older, changes occur in all parts of our bodies, including the brain, which is where our memories are stored. Some people notice that it takes longer to learn something new, they find that they don’t retain information as well as they once did, or they misplace items such as their car keys or glasses. These are usually signs of forgetfulness not necessarily Dementia which refers to many neurological conditions that have their own causes.
Memory loss can be related to a myriad of other conditions or factors including stress, anxiety, depression, chronic illness, pain, medications, excessive alcohol, drug use, sleep deprivation, head injury or stroke.
THE IMPACT OF RECENT CHALLENGES
Given the bushfires we experienced towards the end of 2019 and early 2020 and then, COVID-19, it’s not surprising that many people are struggling with their short-term memory. Our sympathetic nervous system – our alert system that prepares us to do battle or flee – has perhaps been switched ‘on’ for weeks or months resulting in high cortisol levels.
Cortisol is diabolical for brain neurons because our alert system is designed for short, sharp physical activity – to escape or fight – and is not designed to be ‘on’ all the time. Brain fog, poor memory, and inability to prioritise or make decisions is all part of high levels of cortisol in the brain.
Settling down the sympathetic nervous system and, in doing so, activating our parasympathetic nervous system – the rest, soothe, digest and calm system – is often the first step in improving our memory, decision making and prioritising.
FINDING THE CAUSE OF MEMORY LOSS
If you are worried about your memory or finding that memory lapses interfere with your daily life, schedule an appointment with your doctor to determine the cause and best treatment. It’s important to let your doctor know if you’ve been under greater stress than usual over a prolonged period of time.
TREATMENT FOR MEMORY LOSS
Memory loss treatment depends on the cause. The good news is that in many cases, memory loss can be reversible with the right treatment. In addition, there are ways to keep your brain healthy and in optimal condition.
The average brain produces 700 new neurons every day from the hippocampus. While this may slow down as we age, we can keep the brain healthy and engaged so that it continues to regenerate itself. You’re not your brain; you have a brain; it’s up to you to keep your brain focused, healthy and in your service, rather than ‘running the show’.
The brain makes a marvellous servant but is appalling as a master!
The Indians describe the brain, when talking about meditation, as a wild drunk monkey swinging through tree-tops! We need to put the monkey on the leash so that the brain operates in our service.
Ways to keep the brain healthy
Good quality sleep is essential for brain maintenance. Your brain has its own lymphatic system made by the glial cells in the brain. It’s called the glymphatic system and it switches on when your body has finished digesting food and is in deep sleep. Insufficient sleep means insufficient cleansing of the daily residue of toxins from your brain.
A minimum of 7 hours and preferably 8 each night, is essential for your brain’s peak performance. A 20-minute rest after lunch increases your mental abilities by a whopping 36% – so have a daily siesta!
Exercise enables your brain to remain well oxygenated. Without oxygen, neurons die. Commit yourself to regular exercise that you can sustain and enjoy. A minimum of 20 minutes of exercise at least 3 times a week is essential.
Your brain uses 20-30% of all the calories you consume. It thrives on nutrient-dense foods especially good quality fats and oils along with fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Eliminate chemical additives, pesticides and other toxins in food and eat a diet of foods that ‘grow’! These will give you life and energy, whereas fast-food, denatured or processed food robs your body of nutrients and doesn’t provide you with what you need for vitality and health.
Avoid sugar altogether along with too many carbohydrates.
People who have a close and loving group of friends, family or community connections not only outlive other people, but they remain happier and more mentally capable as they age. Maintain or improve your social connections.
Be a life-long student. Encourage your curiosity and learn new information, skills and tools for living well on a daily basis.
6. OPTIMISM AND GRATITUDE
Seeing the glass as half-full rather than half-empty makes a profound difference when it comes to maintaining a healthy brain. Be with people who are upbeat and are also striving to age well.
If you’ve become negative about life or aging, keep a gratitude book to train yourself to be on the lookout for things to be thankful for. Write 3-5 things for which to be grateful each night before sleep. Your brain gets a kick out of positive reinforcement!
7. MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION
Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness and meditation helps to improve memory and concentration. It also helps to reduce stress and is linked to lowering health-related risks that could cause memory loss. When the brain is at rest, it begins to cleanse and repair itself. The brain is designed to be in your service. When it is quiet and attentive to the present moment, we have access to insight, intuition, wisdom, humour, spontaneity, creativity and compassion – qualities that are so beneficial for all of us.
HOW QUEST FOR LIFE CAN HELP
Quest for Life’s programs nourish, educate and support you to create an environment for profound healing. Our Reclaiming Your Brain program covers all the ways in which you can nourish, rest and exercise your brain so that you age well and maintain your memory, focus and concentration.
Learn more about Reclaiming Your Brain