Posts Tagged ‘Memory Loss’
You don’t have to be a senior to experience a “senior moment,” meaning you forget an otherwise familiar word or name, or can’t exactly remember what you planned to do the next minute. It happens throughout life, it just seems to happen more frequently with age.
But it’s not always due to mental decline in our later years that we lose track of things. Much of what we ascribe to forgetfulness may actually be a matter of loss of focus, concentration and attention span that begins much earlier.
In our busy lives, distractions are ubiquitous and nearly impossible to avoid. Most of us are in fact used to juggling several chores at once – a.k.a. multitasking – day in and day out. It has become so much part of us that it almost feels strange to dwell on just one subject matter for too long.
Unfortunately, there is a price to be paid for all this. Studies have shown that the brain actually suffers from being pulled in too many different directions.
For example, researchers from Stanford University found that talking on the phone or sending text messages while doing other things or having other interactions at the same time can cause what they coined “impairment of cognitive control”.
We admire people who act with great efficiency, and it can be a real asset to be able to function this way. But participants in tests showed that when they were regularly bombarded with multiple streams of information and demands, they paid less attention, could often not remember important details, and switched from one job to the next with less ease, compared to others who completed only one project at the time.
Moreover, the multitaskers had a harder time figuring out which information was relevant and which wasn’t to a specific project. People who get inundated with data and messages can become “suckers for irrelevancy,” as one study author put it.
Especially an intense (some say, addictive) use of media may impact the brain in ways we are not yet fully comprehending. Clinical studies have already detected changes in the minds of adolescents and young adults who spend a lot of their time on social media. Since the technology that drives such behavior is relatively new, long-term outcomes are still unclear.
However, experts do agree that a constant exposure to media and communication in the so-called digital age does indeed shorten the attention span most people can muster.
While more research is needed to establish direct connections, the effects of distraction and lack of focus do seem real, and may become more pronounced as people grow older.
As it gets harder to digest information or commit data to memory, it becomes ever more important to remain mentally engaged. It may take longer to learn new skills, or even just read through a newspaper article or an entire book, but it’s definitely worth the effort, and the benefits are myriad.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”
Seniors who suffer from chronic health conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease often develop a host of other, seemingly unrelated health problems, including cognitive impairment like memory loss and dementia, according to a new study based on data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics.
For the study, the researchers analyzed the medical records of hundreds of thousands of seniors residing in assisted-living facilities and found that most had at least one chronic health condition. What was more alarming, however, was that many had overlapping ailments. While high blood pressure and heart disease were most common, nearly half of the assisted-living residents showed signs of dementia.
“These findings suggest a vulnerable population with a high burden of functional and cognitive impairment,” the authors of the study report wrote.
Many studies have suggested a link between vascular disease and dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s, said Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, a professor for psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University’s Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS). Therefore it may not be possible to treat dementia without treating vascular problems, he added.
But that may be easier said than done. “We don’t universally do a great job of how we treat conditions that overlap, for example Alzheimer’s and high blood pressure,” said Dr. Cythia M. Boyd, an associate professor of geriatric medicine at the John Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health, to the New York Times. “Much of the way we practice medicine is looking at disease by disease. We aren’t doing enough thinking about how to add them together and really integrate care.”
What makes things more complicated is that most doctors are not sufficiently trained in preventing or reducing lifestyle-related illnesses – not in the general public and certainly not in older patients – other than through medicating. For instance, the importance of nutrition as a part of preventive care is rarely ever mentioned in medical schools. The approximate time devoted to nutrition science over the first two years of medical education is six hours, which is clearly inadequate, according to the National Academy of Sciences. The same goes for other health-promoting measures such as exercise, especially for the aging population.
Yet many studies have provided compelling evidence that diet and exercise play a significant role for physical and mental health at any time in life but increasingly so as we age.
For example, a more recent study from Britain concluded that the so-called “Western diet,” which typically includes fried, sweet and processed foods, red meat, refined grains and high-fat dairy products, increases the risk of chronic diseases, which in turn can adversely affect both physical and mental health in later years. Eating a Western diet makes it less likely to have an ideal aging process, says Dr. Tasnime Akbaraly, a researcher at the University College of London and lead author of the study report. Conversely, making dietary improvements can yield multiple benefits in this regard.
There is also further evidence that exercise can give a boost to the aging brain. Scientists at the University of British Columbia found that older women who suffered from mild cognitive impairment could improve their memory through weight training and brisk walking.
The connections between physical and mental decline may not yet be completely understood, but it seems clear that chronic diseases play a major role in the process. While these are widespread, the encouraging news is that many, if not all, are preventable by healthier lifestyle choices.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).
One of the most feared health problems the aging Baby Boomer generation will face is dementia. And it won’t just affect those suffering from mental decline but also those who care for them and society at large, at least in financial terms.
A new study predicts that healthcare costs in connection with age-related dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, will soon surpass almost all other medical expenses, including for heart disease and cancer, two of today’s leading causes of death.
The study, which was conducted by economists at the RAND Corporation and sponsored by the federal government, found that expenditures for dementia patients will at least double by 2040.
3.8 million Americans age 71 and older are now diagnosed with some form of age-related cognitive decline. In another generation, the researchers say, there will be over 9 million.
Direct healthcare costs, including nursing home care, per dementia patient run currently between $41,000 and $56,000 a year. Total expenses in the United States in 2010, the year the study collected its data, ranged from $159 billion to 215 billion. It is projected that these numbers will increase to well over $500 billion annually by mid-century.
Not included in these calculations are the costs of what is considered “informal care,” which is usually provided by family members and voluntary caregivers. It is hard to put a price tag on their efforts, but the study estimates a total of $50 billion to $106 billion spent per year.
“The long-term care costs associated with people with dementia are particularly high because of the nature of the disease,” said Donald Moulds, assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in an interview with the New York Times. “People eventually become incapable of caring for themselves, and then in the vast majority of cases, their loved ones become incapable of caring for them.”
So far, there is no cure or effective treatment for dementia. However, there are numerous studies suggesting that certain preventive measures may be helpful, at least in terms of delaying or slowing the debilitating effects.
For instance, certain health and lifestyle factors associated with the risk of Alzheimer’s disease can be controlled, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Scientists are exploring whether prevention strategies like physical exercise, diet and intellectual stimulation can counteract deterioration. Controlling body weight and blood pressure are among the most common recommendations experts give in this regard. Also, keeping the brain engaged by constant learning and participating in a lively social environment are thought to be helpful.
Unfortunately, most of this is guesswork. The truth is that we don’t know why dementia is so dramatically on the rise. Is the reason that we live longer, that we eat the wrong foods, that we exercise too little, that we watch too much TV, that we find ourselves increasingly isolated as we grow older – all of the above and more? We don’t know.
Still, we cannot sit idly and ignore the facts. In any case, adherence to a healthy lifestyle will do no harm. We may not find out the specific causes, if there are any, and there may not be an effective treatment available for the foreseeable future.
But in the meantime, we can and should do everything in our power to stay as healthy and active as possible for as long as we can. A good way of going about that is to satisfy all our health needs in every aspect by eating right, exercising regularly, reducing stress, getting enough sleep, nursing relationships, reading books, learning foreign languages and computer programs and so forth. Not one but all of these together make for what I have called the “pillars of our wellbeing.” Until there are better options, that’s all we can do, and that’s not nothing.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest
Loss of memory and other cognitive functions may start much earlier in life than previously thought, according to a clinical study from England. A modest decline of mental abilities such as reasoning and problem-solving was found in participants who were only in their forties.
For the study, researchers tested 7,000 men and women over a period of 10 years for memory, vocabulary and aural and visual comprehension. The results showed an average of 3.6 percent decline in reasoning skills in both sexes at the age of 45 to 49. 65 to 70 years old men showed on average a steeper decline than women of the same age group – 9.6 versus 7.4 percent.
Since the youngest participants were 45 years old when the study began, it is possible that the deterioration of brain functions may commence even earlier, according to Dr. Archana Singh-Manoux, the leader of the research, which was co-sponsored by the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Population in France and the University College London. The results were recently published in the “British Medical Journal.”
Previous studies on age-related decline of mental health have primarily focused on people in their sixties, seventies and beyond. By limiting ourselves to a narrower scope, we may not yet have gotten the entire picture, according to Dr. Singh-Manoux. A decline of mental capacity doesn’t suddenly happen at old age. That variability exists much earlier on, she says.
Researchers still need to learn more about the risk factors that lead to progressive cognitive impairment. There is strong evidence that Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia is closely related to heart disease, which is typically caused by weight problems, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
We probably underestimate how affected the broader population may be, says Dr. Singh-Manoux. The participants in this study were drawn from a relative homogeneous pool of office workers who were well educated and, for the most part, enjoyed a comfortable life and good health. This is not necessarily a representative profile at a time when so many suffer from obesity and other lifestyle-related health issues.
Although the causes of mental decline are not yet fully understood, experts recommend a number of measures that may not prevent but at least slow down the process. These include regular physical exercise, healthy nutrition, weight control, intellectual activity, avoidance of smoking and alcohol/drug abuse, stress reduction, sufficient amounts of sleep as well as social activities and supportive relationships.
A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic concluded that engaging in stimulating mental activities through reading, discussion, playing challenging games and other interactions can help decrease the risk of cognitive impairment significantly. This does not only apply to the elderly. To prevent even mild cognitive impairment (MCI), it is important to “exercise” the brain at any age.
“This study… demonstrates that aging does not need to be a passive process,” says Dr. Yonas Geda, a Mayo Clinic neuropsychiatrist and lead author of the study report. “By simply engaging in cognitive exercise, you can protect against future memory loss.”
To what degree we actually hold the key to our mental health remains to be seen. Preserving our physical health as best as we can is certainly a good strategy. Baby boomers have long been spending millions to save their sagging skin, fix their crow’s feet and plump their lips. As they reach old age, they finally are beginning to turn to brain boosters to fight memory loss, writes Virginia Anderson of WebMD in an article titled “Seven Brain Boosters to Prevent Memory Loss.” In fact, the process may begin much earlier in life and people need to pay attention before it’s too late.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.