You forgot where you put your keys, the name of that woman at the gym you see every day, what you needed when you walked from the kitchen to the bedroom. Is it Alzheimer’s disease? Some other form of dementia?
Don’t panic. While it’s true that the majority of people with dementia are older, forgetfulness and memory loss do not necessarily translate into Alzheimer’s disease. The table below from the Alzheimer’s Association highlights the differences.
|SIGNS OF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE/DEMENTIA
||TYPICAL AGE-RELATED CHANGES
|Poor judgement and decision-making
||Making a bad decision once in a while
|Inability to manage a budget
||Missing a monthly payment
|Losing track of the date or the season
||Forgetting which day it is and remembering later
|Difficulty having a conversation
||Sometimes forgetting which word to use
|Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them
||Losing things from time to time
There are currently no FDA-approved drugs for maintaining memory and cognition. That’s why it’s important to focus on lifestyle approaches and consider herbal and nutritional supplements. Here’s what the research shows:
Herbal remedies have been used in China for more than 2,000 years to boost memory. 19 Some with the most evidence behind them include:
- Gingko biloba. Gingko is widely used for preventing and managing memory-related disorders. Studies suggest it reduces oxidative damage to cells as well as providing anti-inflammatory benefits, improving glucose uptake, blood flow, nitric oxide production and other processes that can contribute to healthier brain cells and, thus, reduce memory loss. 19 Several studies in healthy people find that ginkgo can improve cognitive function, including working memory. One study in people with vascular cognitive impairment (in which not enough blood gets to the brain), but not dementia, demonstrated similar findings. And several studies in people with various forms of dementia find significant improvements in many areas related to memory and cognition.19 Be careful if you are taking any blood thinners (eg, aspirin or Coumadin), as they may increase the risk of bleeding.
- Huperzia serrata. This herb reduces that amount of acetylcholinesterase in the brain, which is known to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. It also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and also acts upon important neurotransmitters related to cognition. Most studies have been conducted in people with Alzheimer’s disease. They demonstrate improvements in cognition, memory, behavior and overall function with few side effects. 19
- Turmeric. You probably know this herb as a spice, but it’s also used in numerous remedies in Asian medicine. Like all the herbal remedies mentioned here, it has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. One study of 1,101 older people without dementia found that those with a high turmeric consumption had better cognitive function than those with lower consumption. However, studies in people with dementia don’t show much improvement. Still, it may be worth trying as a general anti-inflammatory agent and may help with osteoarthritis, too. 19
- Ginseng. Another popular herbal supplement for numerous conditions, ginseng can help improve learning and memory, potentially protecting against Alzheimer’s disease. 19 One reason could be its ability to protect against amyloid-β and cholinesterase activity, both of which are associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Most clinical studies have been conducted on healthy people, however, not on those with Alzheimer’s disease, so its overall benefit is not known.
Whenever you take supplements, make sure you tell your doctor or other health care providers, as the supplements could interact with certain medications. Also be sure to purchase quality supplements from reputable brands. Look for the NSF International, US Pharmacopeia or Consumer Lab seal. These organizations verify what’s inside the product.
Are You at Risk for Dementia?
The greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is age, followed by family history. You can’t control either of those, however, many other risk factors can be controlled, such as heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. And the best way to control those risk factors is through lifestyle changes, including losing weight, reducing stress, eating healthy, quitting smoking and exercising regularly. 20
This is where the classic elements of a healthy lifestyle come into play: a diet high in healthy proteins, fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fat, sugar and processed foods; regular mental and physical exercise (preferably a combination of cardio and weight-bearing exercises) and stress management (meditation, yoga, deep breathing). Following your doctor’s instructions regarding medications is also important, as is maintaining a healthy weight. Finally, several of the herbal supplements recommended above may also help prevent or manage heart disease or stroke.
Another risk factor is depression, which can lead to chronic inflammation. It’s why people who are depressed often talk about feeling “foggy” and unable to concentrate. For instance, not only can yoga and exercise improve depression and mood, but there is also evidence they can lead to improvements in cognitive function, particularly attention, processing speed, executive function (decision-making) and memory in people with and without depression. 21