Whether performing a search for shoes, music, or local parks, advertising for brain training programs like Lumosity, BrainPower, and Mind Sparke are unavoidable. This has undoubtedly sparked an interest (or fear) in millions of people in improving their memory before it goes to pieces.
However, the ineffectiveness of the programs have been revealed, it looks like we’ll have to search elsewhere for a memory boost. A study on Lumosity by neuroscientists was published in 2009, which showed that the program stimulates the brain to a similar degree as a crossword or surfing the web.
But the programs and their persistent advertising get clicks and downloads for a reason: memory loss and related conditions affect countless adults, and almost everyone can relate to forgetting a phone number. And while games seem like a fun way to put off the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, they are likely to disappoint.
An obvious symptom of aging, many people fear losing their memory to some extent as they grow older, and others who have an unhealthy lifestyle can get a glimpse of memory loss from an earlier age. Memory loss can be linked to serious health conditions, long-term or short-term. Genetics, medications, diet, and lack of sleep can also reduce your ability to retain information. Below are several typical causes of memory loss. If you can identify with one of these, you should consult your doctor with the next steps to take. They can run tests and diagnose your condition in order to help your brain heal (more effectively than an app).
Common Causes of Memory Loss
In most cases degenerative, dementia is a loss of brain function experienced with various conditions. Also called chronic brain syndrome, it is mostly linked to Alzheimer’s disease, and impairs memory, intellect, judgment, language, and personal conduct. Dementia can also occur after multiple small strokes, called vascular dementia, as well as other brain injury. Some forms of dementia can be reversed if detected early on, including brain tumors, brain injury, low levels of vitamin B12, alcohol abuse, metabolic changes, normal pressure hydrocephalus, and certain medications.
Dementia is rarely found in persons younger than 60 years old, and naturally, the risk for the disease increases with age. Other conditions that can cause dementia include multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, infections that can break the blood-brain barrier like HIV/AIDS or Lyme disease, Pick’s disease, lewy body disease, and progressive supranuclear palsy.
An assortment of prescription, and even over-the-counter, medications can contribute to memory loss or block your ability to recall important details. Drugs that can potentially thwart your memory include antihistamines, sleep aids, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, tranquilizers, pain killers, and muscle relaxants. As many of these medications trigger your brain to slow down or alter one’s physical or neurological responses, your memory can get lost in the shuffle, so to speak.
Not getting a good night’s rest and can’t remember why? Sleep that is poor quality or insufficient can have a great impact on your memory. Making sure you get enough sleep, and it’s solid – meaning no getting up in the middle of the night – helps you avoid fatigue, which can interfere with your ability to comprehend and recall information. Knocking yourself out with medication is also not considered a good night of sleep, and can lead to further memory loss, so consider a few natural ways to improve your sleep.
Using Alcohol, Cigarettes, or Substances
Drinking an excess of alcohol has been known to result in loss of memory for many years. Cutting down on blackout nights can increase your hope for the future. The process of inhaling smoke lowers the amount of oxygen your brain receives, therefore impairing memory. Whether you smoke tobacco or any other substance, are exposed to second-hand smoke, or accidentally burn plastic on the stove, the toxins can be absorbed into the blood and cause more than just respiratory distress.
Various substances can also lead to reduced memory function, including abuse of medications listed above, as well as illegal drugs. Marijuana smokers are also stereotypically prone to suffer short-term memory loss. Many recreational drugs change the brain’s chemistry and ultimately make it difficult to use your memory and other brain functions normally.
Lack of Nutrients
A balanced diet, getting enough vitamins, minerals, proteins and good fats, is essential to brain health. A reduced amount of vitamin B1 (thiamine) and B12 in the body can especially target the memory. If you’re not receiving a sufficient source of nutrition, change what you eat, and begin taking a multivitamin. Visit your doctor before assuming what nutrients your body lacks, and get their professional opinion. They can diagnose you and provide instructions on the right foods and vitamins to consume in order to get balanced. Will taking B vitamins improve your memory? Probably not, but it will not make it worse.
When your head becomes seriously injured, you have a much higher likelihood of losing your memory. A harsh fall or car accident can lead to both short- and long-term memory loss, though it is possible to recover. Memory can sometimes be retrieved over time after suffering an injury to the head, through treatment and depending on the circumstance.
Lack of Well-Being
Depression and anxiety disorders, as well as regular old stress, can distract and consume so much thought that memory gets the shaft. Depression has been known to affect a person’s ability to concentrate and pay attention, which can reduce retention of information. Attention is a key factor in being able to recall details and learn, so any emotional barrier (tension, being overstimulated, obsessing) creating distraction will cause your memory to suffer. Additionally, emotional trauma-induced stress can result in memory loss.
Strokes are caused by the blockage or leakage of a blood vessel into the brain, making the blood flow to the brain come to an abrupt stop. Often causing unconsciousness and brain damage, strokes usually are paired with short-term memory loss. Commonly, when a person has experienced a stroke, they can describe memories of their youth in brilliant detail, but cannot remember their last meal. Strokes are common with other cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension and coronary artery disease.
Infectious diseases can impact the brain can therefore cause memory loss. As mentioned above with dementia, once an infection passes from the blood to the cerebrospinal fluid, it can affect the brain and memory may suffer as well. Some infections that can affect the brain include tuberculosis, meningitis, HIV, and syphilis.
Treatment for Memory Loss
A doctor will recommend varying treatment methods based on what the underlying cause of your memory loss may be. Fortunately for many situations, the effects can be undone with treatment. If you have lost your ability to remember from a medication, you can consult your doctor about changing your medication or finding a natural source of relief. If your memory loss is due to depression, anxiety, or medications associated with your condition, try any number of exercises and tools to help you relax and regain focus. Green exercise is a great help for all mental illnesses.
Memory loss from a lack of nourishment can be easily remedied with diet adjustments and taking supplements. And if sleep is a problem, speak with your doctor about effective solutions for falling and staying asleep. Over time, your ability to concentrate and remember will come back with natural energy from adequate nutrition and quality sleep. After having a stroke, therapy can help patients remember important details and improve their brain function.
Remember Your Health Plan
In order to correctly diagnose and treat memory loss, a doctor will assess your medical history, conduct physical and neurological examinations, and test your brain power with a series of questions. More testing may be required based on the outcome of the exams. Nerve, blood, and urine tests may be administered, as well as brain exams such as MRI and CAT scans. In order to get these tests and see a trusted provider to identify the cause of your memory impairment, health insurance will make the process much easier. Being connected to a network of doctors gives you better access to quality care, and at an affordable cost.
Before you go in for testing, remember to check your schedule of benefits so you have an idea of how much you are responsible for paying. It can be deductible, coinsurance, or a copay, depending on your plan. Also, look up an in-network doctor beforehand through your health plan’s website, if you don’t have a primary care provider already. This saves you both time and money.
1. Image: Pinterest.
2. 25 February 2009. Rebecca Smithers. The Guardian. Brain training? Think again, says study.
4. PubMed Health. Dementia.