We may not want to think about it, but this month our Sussex health expert takes a look at age-related cognitive decline.
Memory decline & Age Related Cognitive Decline (ARCD)
Alzheimer’s disease and senile dementia (ARCD) are sources of memory loss in older people and are associated with the gradual erosion of the personality. Additionally, many substances affect memory, including prescription drugs e.g., sleeping pills and anti-depressants; and chronic alcohol abuse. Nutritional deficiencies and dehydration should also be evaluated, especially in older people who do not always eat well.
Some women experience memory loss in conjunction with menopause, due to hormonal imbalances. Memory is also affected by lack of sleep, or by stress and anxiety. Conversely, if the mind is dulled by depression or boredom, short-term memory becomes impaired due to lack of use. Long-term memory tends to remain stable with age.
Consumption of a typical Mediterranean diet – which includes a high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, cereals, and fish, as well as monounsaturated fatty acids (e.g., olive oil) – has been associated with protection against age-related cognitive decline (ARCD) in repeated research studies.
Research suggests that there may be a small protective benefit from caffeine, with higher levels of coffee consumption being associated with improved cognitive performance in elderly people. Similar but weaker associations were found for tea consumption. This should be balanced with a common-sense approach to intake.
Studies suggest that diets high in antioxidant-rich foods, such as spinach and strawberries, may be beneficial in slowing ARCD. Among people aged 65 and older, higher vitamin C and beta-carotene levels in the blood have been associated with better memory performance.
Adding unrefined, cold-pressed nut and seed oils (flax seed oil, walnut oil or sesame oil) to the diet can assist in an improved memory. These oils have a high content of lecithin, which plays an essential role in the transmission of nerve impulses that control memory. Other food sources of lecithin are egg yolks, soy beans and raw wheat germ. Unroasted almonds, hazelnuts and fresh walnuts are an ideal food source.
Controlled trials have shown that group exercise has beneficial effects on physiological and cognitive functioning, and well-being in older people. Those that participate in regular exercise show significant improvements in reaction time, memory span, and measures of well-being when compared with controls. Even regular walking in our wonderful Sussex countryside could reduce the usual age-related decline in reaction time.
Challenging the brain to learn new things is another important way to prevent memory loss. Examples include learning a foreign language, an instrument, or a computer program.
Additional Suggestions: A calm environment can influence memory dramatically. A poor memory is often related to doing too many things at once. Try to avoid a hectic lifestyle. Turn off the television and radio when doing something else. Undertake regular breathing exercises or mindfulness sessions.
Nutritional supplement treatment options
Acetyl-L-carnitine delays onset of ARCD and improves overall cognitive function in the elderly. Trials have shown significant improvement in memory, mood, and responses to stress.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) has been shown to improve memory, cognition, and depressive symptoms in the elderly in at least two placebo-controlled trials.
Inositol and Choline are B vitamins necessary for memory, brain function and reducing stress. Lecithin also contains high amounts of both these vitamins.
Beta carotene, taken over a prolonged number of years, has been shown in double-blind trials to slow the loss of cognitive function in middle-aged healthy males.
Omega 3 Fish Oil – studies suggest that a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acid from foods such as cold-water fish, plant and nut oils and walnuts are strongly linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s.
Folic acid supplementation, when compared to placebo, has been shown to significantly slow the rate of memory decline and other measures of cognitive function in elderly people with high homocysteine levels.
Vinpocetine has been shown to provide significant improvement in several measures of memory and other cognitive functions in people with various types of dementia or age-related cognitive decline.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) deficiency is common among people over the age of 65. Double-blind trials on men aged 70 to 79 years, showed that pyridoxine supplementation improved memory performance, especially long-term memory.
Vitamin B12 deficiency in older people is not uncommon. Research has shown “striking” improvements in cognitive function among elderly people with vitamin B12 deficiency and cognitive decline when given vitamin B12 daily.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. It is partially responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles. Cognitive function is linked to adequate sleep and normal sleep-wake cycles. Research has shown that when elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment take melatonin two hours before bed, there is significant improvement in sleep, mood, and memory, including the ability to remember previously learned items. Note: Melatonin is a prescription-only medication. The long-term effects of regularly taking melatonin supplements remain unknown, and its use on a long term basis must be supervised by a medical practitioner.
Vitamin C and Vitamin E supplements have been associated with better cognitive function and a reduced risk of certain forms of dementia (not including Alzheimer’s disease). Both are powerful antioxidants which inhibit free-radical damage of cells and improve circulation, both of which are necessary for mental activity.
Niacin stimulates brain function and promotes blood flow by dilating the arteries and veins. (This leads to the common but harmless “niacin flush”).
Evening Primrose Oil contains a hormone-like substance called gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid which is required for all brain functions.
Ginkgo Biloba – Several studies have shown that Ginkgo seems to help prevent the progression of dementia symptoms; especially if the dementia is the result of atherosclerotic vascular disease, since it tends to improve blood flow in small vessels.
Article contributed by Dr Tracy S Gates, DO, DIBAK, L.C.P.H., Consultant, Pure Bio Ltd.
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