Causes of Memory Loss amongst South Asians
A strong memory depends on the health and vitality of the brain. These days, a growing number of South Asians have concerns about of memory less, do the usual online research and panic because they think they have early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Fortunately, this isn’t usually the case.
Some common causes of non-Alzheimer’s memory loss are:
Stress: Stress hormones like cortisol move blood flow away from a part of our brain called the hippocampus which creates new memories and controls our sense of direction. The hippocampus is the same part of the brain that becomes irreversibly damaged in Alzheimer’s disease, which is why stress may cause Alzheimer’s-like memory loss. Persistent stress also shuts down the frontal regions of your brain, which help with planning, organization and execution. The good news is that when you consistently and effectively manage your stress, your memory usually improves.
Sleep: Sleep is becoming a lower priority and going to sleep late is the norm; studies show it is having an impact on every area of our health. Sleep allows us to process all of the data during our day and consolidate them into memories and learning experiences. Studies have shown increased recall and higher test scores in individuals who sleep more hours. Sleep less and you’ll remember less. Rather than fix the underlying habits and behaviors, many people resort to the chronic use of sleep medications which may buy them more hours, but may have negative effects on cognitive function and memory in the long run.
Inactive lifestyle: Exercise is one of the best brain boosters around. Studies show that individuals who are sedentary have reduced levels of a vital brain chemical called BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor). In addition, regular exercise reduces stress and the negative impact of cortisol. So remember, exercise is never a waste of your time.
Poor diet: An unhealthy diet can impact how clearly you think and how effectively you recall information. Glucose in particular is the brain’s primary fuel source, so eating foods that cause significant fluctuations in glucose levels will have a negative impact on both mood and memory. Glucose doesn’t just come from sweet foods, but is also from sources like bread (white or wheat), rice (brown or white), noodles, pasta, and the dangerous hidden sugar in processed foods called high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
Computer overusage: Studies are just starting to come out on this, but it appears a brain that is overly reliant on technology is susceptible to reduced memory and cognitive function. Today, if we have a question or are trying to recall information, we usually have access to it instantly on our phones or computers. In the old days, individuals could actually remember at least a dozen different phone numbers, addresses, etc. Our hippocampus, which helps with memory processing, also is our internal GPS device that helps us navigate directions. That function has also been deferred to our phones and portable navigation devices. As exciting as modern technology has become, we must question if our over-reliance on high-tech tools is contributing to a weaker brain. Just like our muscles, we know if we don’t use it, you start to lose it.
Whether you’re a student studying for final exams, a working professional interested in doing all you can to stay mentally sharp, or a senior looking to preserve and enhance your grey matter as you age, there are lots of things you can do to improve your memory and mental performance.
• Exercise and stress management are key. Get more steps, try yoga, try mindfulness meditation, get outdoors, etc.
• Make sleep a high priority.
• Improve your diet with an emphasis on reducing sugars and excess carbohydrates. Eat more vegetables and fruits for brain-protecting antioxidants and eat healthy fats, especially fish-derived Omega-3s and monounsaturated fats (olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados).
• Start hobbies that stimulate different parts of your brain. Learn a language, an instrument, play bridge, chess, etc. Because of an increased reliance on digital devices, our brains need more exercise than ever.
• Socialize: Human social stimulation helps enhance brain function, so spend more of your free time with family and friends and less time with your devices. Better yet, plan outdoor active social gatherings that also include healthy food. That way you cover some of the most important components of preserving and enhancing brain function.