Board-certified urologist and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons
The brain records information and retrieves the appropriate information when we need it, but like all aspects of our health, brain health also needs maintenance and exercise. (Shutterstock/File)
As we age, we all have episodes of forgetfulness. We forget where we put our keys, where we parked the car or why we walked into a room.
These episodes are frustrating for many of us, but for some people in their 60s, these episodes may trigger a fear that they might have Alzheimer's disease.
The memory process involves receiving and encoding new information. The brain records information and retrieves the appropriate information when we need it. The large outer layer of the brain, the cerebral cortex, receives the new information, which is then encoded by the amygdala and finally, it is stored as a memory by the hippocampus. When we need certain information, the frontal lobes of the brain help us consciously retrieve the correct information.
Many people begin to notice a difference with their memory starting in their 50s. This is when age-related changes in our chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) and brain structure begin. These changes slow the processing speed and limit the capacity of our working memory, making it hard for us to recall names or words.
Our working memory is affected by distractions, anxiety, stress and lack of sleep. Some anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications may also affect our memory. If you are on anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication, you may want to consult your doctor to see if an alternative therapy is possible. Their side effects can make your brain less alert and sluggish, making it more challenging to carry out the encoding, recording and retrieval processes.
The following tips may help improve your memory, despite the ageing process we must all experience one day.
Besides the above tips, it is important to follow a healthy lifestyle. In 2015, a randomized controlled study in Finland showed that older adults who engaged in healthy habits, such as following a healthy diet, exercising regularly and socializing, improved or maintained their brain function.
One of the best ways to protect your thinking skills is to engage in aerobic exercise. This helps improve brain health by increasing blood flow to the brain. Exercise stimulates the brain to release brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein molecule essential for repairing brain cells and creating connections between them.
Studies suggest that those with higher levels of BDNF have lower risk for dementia. You should aim for 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise and two sessions of 30 minutes each of resistance training per week. Examples of aerobic exercise include running, swimming, brisk walking or biking. Lifting weights, using resistance bands, doing push-ups and sit-ups are examples of resistance training.
Regarding a healthy diet – one that is good for your heart and blood vessels – means eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, avocados and fish (salmon, sardines and mackerel), although you should be aware that some fish and shellfish may have a high mercury content. Avoid processed meats like deli meats, salamis, hot dogs, and hams. Be sure to choose healthy unsaturated fats such as olive oil or canola oil over saturated fats like butter.
Socializing has important brain benefits as well. People who have emotionally supportive relationships and meaningful activities with other people have lower risk for dementia.
And finally, to support and maintain your overall brain health, it’s important to maintain the following habits:
Better habits and a healthy lifestyle will result in better brain health, which in turn will keep you sharp so you can enjoy better quality of life, and for longer into our later years. (kes)
Agustinus Rushanaedy is an Indonesian diaspora who completed his urology residency at Wright State University and Ohio State University School of Medicine in the US. He obtained his medical degree at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. A board-certified urologist and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, in his 30 years practicing medicine, he has maintained a holistic approach that emphasizes patient education and preventive medicine.
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