Dr. Daliah, I’m 55 years old and have high blood pressure. I’m nervous because I’ve noticed my memory start to go over the last 5 years. They’re minor memory lapses, such as forgetting what I went to the store for, or my nephew’s birthday, but I’m concerned since we have a family history of Alzheimers. What foods can I incorporate into my diet or what things can I do to help improve my memory? R.W.
I think we’ve all at some point in our life experienced a “lapse in memory”. Its interesting. If we think back to when our memory was “the best”, most of us will admit our peak was when we were adolescents through our 20’s and not prior. Look at children…mine for instance. They can’t seem to remember each and every school day where their sock drawer is located, even though it hasn’t changed in five years. And don’t get me started on Mother’s Day. Just once I’d like them to remember…..but I digress.
So if we have a peak, usually during our higher education years, we usually associate it with our rigorous school schedule and need to memorize. And I believe that’s a good part of it, but not all of it. Our health is usually at our peak during those years as well, with high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol coming with age. (Though one can argue we don’t see many people in their 20’s have these conditions because they aren’t being screened regularly.)
Since you mentioned you had high blood pressure, I would first suggest you make sure this is under control by seeing your medical provider regularly. I would also recommend being screened for diabetes, and have blood work monitoring your thyroid, cholesterol, salts, blood count, liver, and kidneys since abnormalities may affect your memory as well. It wouldn’t hurt to also bring up issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression. When we feel overworked, overextended or burned out, our memory will falter. Your medical provider may perform a mental status exam which will evaluate your short term and long term memory and various tasks such as spelling “world” backwards from memory or serially subtracting 7’s from 100. If an indepth exam is required you may even be referred to a neurologist.
In the meantime there are a few things you can do to help prevent memory lapses. Firstly, make lists, such as shopping lists, birthday lists and fasten these lists to things such as the front door, bathroom mirror, or purse to remind you to take the lists. Post-it notes work well to remind you to make calls, drop of dry-cleaning, or even to take your medications. Phones have alarm and reminder systems as well.
Phones…hmmm, remember the good ole days when we had to memorize people’s phone numbers and now all we have to do is look it up under our “contacts”. Which brings us to the next subject of keeping your mind active. Read books, take classes, learn an instrument…anything to work your brain and increase memory capacity.
You asked about which foods increase memory. Although some studies have pointed to blueberries, fish, whole grains, calcium rich foods and nuts, a balanced and healthy diet is paramount. Exercise will increase blood flow as well, and keeping your weight in control is crucial. If you remember anything from this article is to remember to take care of yourself..your whole self …which means mind and body. Good luck and keep me posted!!!