Memory decline can take many forms from the small loss in late middle age to more pronounced loss associated with the forms of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. There is considerable evidence emerging that early memory decline is related to the clinical disorders of premature cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. New evidence suggests that the small memory decline many persons experience by age 50 may in fact may be a form of “pre-dementia” just as the first manifestations of trouble controlling blood sugar are called pre-diabetes.
We often joke and take lightly the emergence of some degree of short term memory loss in upper middle age. New research suggests that these observations are the earliest indicators of brain decline. This phase also is a window of opportunity to resolve issues that may be causing decline in brain function.
Extensive research into the chemical processes in the brain that cause both early memory problems and eventual cognitive decline has delineated much about why these occur. Some of the punitive factors include:
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Chronic high insulin
- High fructose consumption
- Low phytonutrient intake
These factors interrelate and have a very high correlation with modifiable lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. For example, chronic high insulin levels and blood sugar imbalance are driven by both inflammation and high fructose consumption. Chronic high inflammation is a major contributor to the risk of anxiety/depression.
The other side of the window of opportunity in preventing the progression of memory problems is the ability of selective nutrients to reduce risk. Research has found many to be very beneficial to preventing or resolving the mechanisms above that drive brain decline. Evidence suggests positive effects of the following:
- Tocotrienols (in natural vitamin E)
- Vitamin D
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Phytonutrients (Resveratrol, curcumin, EGGC)
Interestingly, the western diet has had most of the natural sources of these factors removed or heavily reduced at the same time many things that cause the problem such as high fructose consumption have increased dramatically. It is as if there are far more criminals on the street, while there has been a sharp decline in police presence. The outcome would not be surprising.
Anxiety and depression deserve special mention here as they are known to interfere with processing of new memory, and they are becoming much more prevalent. Approximately 1 of every four women between the ages of 40 and 55 years has clinical anxiety or depression, while almost 1 in 10 teens are affected.
During anxiety the frontal area of the brain becomes extremely focused which is a reaction to danger. Unfortunately, humans use the same brain activation pattern in response to stress as it does during perceived danger. With time the brain “trains” itself into the heightened frontal activation, and normal stimuli begin to induce the stress/danger activation.
The memory problem comes from how the brain diverts its energy and focus for this heightened frontal attention; it does so at the expense of activation of other brain areas used to process new memory. Over time memory formation is progressively impaired.
Anxiety and depression are highly interrelated being two parts of the same problem. Generally, when the brain sustains anxiety over time it will begin to “re-order” function in compensation shifting gradually to depression. This continuum of anxiety/depression is highlighted by the common coexistence of the two problems in the same individual as well as the large overlap in symptoms between the two problems.
A recent study examined the impact of depression on working memory. Patients with depression were compared with other diseases known to contribute to memory problems including type I diabetes, type II diabetes and hypertension. Memory testing from each group were compared to each other and to healthy aged matched control subjects. All of the disease groups demonstrated some degree of memory impairment compared to the healthy controls. Those with depression additionally had significantly worse scores than all of the other three disease groups.
The treatment of memory problems begins with finding metabolic problems as discussed above and implementing corrective treatments. This typically will involve dietary correction, nutritional supplements and the correction of inflammatory problems such as food sensitivities.
Another important part of correcting memory problems is retraining brain activation patterns to correct imbalances that inhibit memory areas of the brain. This is done with neurofeedback. Neurofeedback is EEG guided brain training which assists the brain in reestablishing balanced brain wave activation patterns in the desired brain areas. It has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression as well as to improve memory performance.
Most memory problems are the result of identifiable and modifiable factors. Discovering and correcting these factors is best done in the earlier stages yielding the greatest change most quickly, but improvements can be made at almost any stage.