By Dr. Shane Steadman, DC, DACNB, DCBCN, CNS
As we age, becoming forgetful and losing memory is a major fear for most people. When we watch family members and friends struggle with remembering events, names, and places, it can cause anxiety about the future. There are different aspects of memory and different areas of the brain responsible for memory. The big question that most people have is what can be done to preserve our memory and, if it’s getting worse, what can be done about it.
There are seven different types of memory, which can then be further broken down into subcategories. Understanding memory is very complex and research is constantly evolving. In this article, three main memory types will be reviewed: short-term, long-term, and sensory memory. Sensory memory is very short (less than a second) and is involved with sensing what a person heard, observed, tasted, or felt. The information goes through the thalamus and into the sensory areas of the brain. For example, hearing a bird overhead, seeing an image that flashes in front of a person, feeling cold when getting something out of the freezer, or smelling a brief fragrance when walking by a coffee shop are all part of sensory memory. Short-term memory, also called active memory, is involved in holding a small amount of information.
Short-term memory relies on the function of the prefrontal cortex and a person can hold about seven to nine pieces of information. If not rehearsed, short-term memory will last about 20 to 30 seconds and possibly up to a minute. Examples of short-term memory are remembering a phone number, a person’s name, or items on a list. Long-term memory is information that is stored over days, months, and years and involves the area of the brain called the hippocampus. One function of the hippocampus is converting short-term memories into long-term memories. The hippocampus is an extension of the temporal lobe and is vulnerable to stress, hormonal changes, neurochemical changes, and vascular changes, which helps to explain why people become forgetful under times of stress, certain medical conditions, or inflammation. Knowing a little more, we can discuss three different ways to support memory.
#1: Diet and Nutrition
The first way to support memory, and often a simple way, is through diet and nutrition. Incorporating diet and nutrition is a necessity when working to improve memory. The brain is made mostly of fat and uses healthy fats for nerve signals and transmission. Foods rich in essential fatty acids, including fish, nuts, seeds, and certain plant oils are easy to incorporate into one’s diet. Other foods such as blueberries, turmeric, avocadoes, and even dark chocolate can also be beneficial for memory, due to their anti-inflammatory properties, as well as the role they play as antioxidants.
Stabilizing and maintaining healthy glucose levels also supports memory and brain function. More information is comin gout on the relationship between diagbetes and Alzheimer’s, but blood sugar stability is crucial in preserving memory. Research is being done on the link between Alzheimer’s and blood glucose, because of the role blood glucose has on the brain and memory. Insulin resistance, diabetes, and hypoglycemia not only affects memory but can lead to further inflammation and alter hippocampal function. Consuming healthy fats and quality protein, and reducing refined carbohydrates, are important in maintaining proper blood sugar levels and keeping inflammation low.
Studies have shown that a few supplements can be helpful with improving memory. Each herb or nutrient has different mechanisms of action in supporting memory. B12, for example, can help support myelin for nerve transmission while phosphatidyl serine is shown to help with hippocampal function. It is important to work with a health care provider who understands not only memory issues, but also supplements. Below is a list of supplements that have been researched regarding their importance with memory:
- Huperzine A
- Acetyl-L Carnitine
- Phosphatidyl Serine
#3: Brain Exercises
When working to improve memory, build neuroplasticity in the frontal lobe, or support the hippocampus, brain-based exercises are essential to add to daily activities. When incorporating brain-based exercises it is important to first identify the weakness and work toward making it function better. For example, if short-term memory is a struggle, exercises or tasks that focus on using short-term memory are the types of exercises to do. Playing the old game of memory with a deck of cards or memorizing short lists can improve the neuropathways for short-term memory. With advancements in technology, apps and programs have made it easier to work on different aspects of memory. Programs such as Lumosity and Scientific Brain Training provide web-based and app-based systems that can be used daily to work on brain function and memory.
Thinking about memory and what the future holds can feel scary and create anxiety. There are knowledgeable practitioners and cognitive testing that can be done to get an idea of where a person is currently at. Having this knowledge can help a person understand what their next steps should be, and being proactive early could be a key to preserving memory. Take steps to maintain a healthy diet, minimize stress, reduce inflammation, and use your memory whenever possible. Treat the memory areas of your brain like a muscle and keep it strong.
Dr. Shane Steadman, DC, DACNB, DCBCN, CNS is the owner and clinic director of Integrated Brain Centers. To learn more about how they can help with concussions, stroke, and TBIs, please visit www.integratedbraincenters.com. For a free consultation, please call 303-781-5617.