Mature Living Special Section: Memory loss not always a sign of Alzheimer's disease

Published on Wed, Oct 5, 2011 by Annelle Norman

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It started, he said, just before their 30th anniversary – he had bought a lovely bracelet for his wife and hidden it so that she wouldn’t find it. Well, he didn’t find it for days after the anniversary came and went.  For her, it was right around menopause – forgetting where she had put her keys, the book she was reading, the lunch date with a friend. These are not uncommon stories for me to hear in my office; not told by elderly patients but by baby boomers, some of whom go on to confess fears that they are developing Alzheimer’s or dementia. Sound familiar?

What is this? Why is this happening? And what’s to be done? A number of physiological and mental issues affect memory and can cause short term memory loss. These issues include hormone insufficiencies, inflammation, stress, diet and food sensitivities, toxin overload, vascular disease, hypothyroidism and poor adrenal function. Certain medications can also cause cognitive issues. If you are on any medications, research them online (www.drugs.com is a good source of side effects information). 

Healthy memory function occurs as a result of a number of brain hormones called neurotransmitters being in proper balance with one another. Acetylcholine and dopamine are the two primary ones involved in memory, but any neurotransmitter or hormone deficiency or excess can cause cognitive and/or memory issues. Stress, for instance, raises epinephrine levels, and research shows that this can cause cognitive dysfunction. Testosterone for men and estrogen for women are protective of healthy brain function so imbalances in these hormones could be culprits. 

Lab tests can determine your sex and adrenal hormone levels (these are, in my opinion, best tested by a simple saliva test), but because the brain is protected by the blood/brain barrier, a function that keeps damaging substances out of the brain, neurotransmitters are difficult to measure.

Your symptoms, however, can give fairly accurate clues as to which neurotransmitters are deficient. For instance, symptoms of acetylcholine deficiency are short term memory lapses, difficulty calculating numbers or recognizing faces or images, or if you feel your opinion of yourself has diminished.

Dopamine insufficiency is characterized by being easily distracted and unable to finish tasks, forgetting why you walked into a room or what you were going to do next and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. Other neurotransmitter levels such as those of serotonin and GABA also affect memory function, mood, focus and concentration.

Your healthcare provider or practitioner can advise you on medications and nutraceuticals that can help enhance your brain function.

As to what else can be done, eating healthy, vitamin and anti-oxidant rich foods (i.e. lots of vegetables and some low sugar fruits), getting plenty of protein from fish and grass-fed organic meats and poultry, managing your blood sugar by eating regularly and eliminating simple carbohydrates and sugars will make a difference over time as will getting plenty of exercise and fresh air.  Actually exercising your brain with crossword puzzles, word or card games will help to keep it functioning properly.  There are some great programs online that are fun and provide excellent stimulation to keep your memory healthy. One is www.lumosity.com/brain-training/core-brain-training.

Reducing your level of emotional/mental stress (or the intensity of your response to it, which may be the only thing you really have any control over) can make a big difference not only in your brain function but your enjoyment of life and your health in general. A simple saliva test (obtainable from www.diagnostechs.com) can show you how involved your adrenal health may be in brain function issues. Eliminate exposure to physiological stressors such as cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, exposure to radiation, heavy metals and other toxins.

A good detox diet for a few weeks can also help improve memory and brain function, especially those that are designed and/or formulated to detox your liver. However, I would recommend that you check in with your naturopath, chiropractor and nutritionist for advice about a good, safe liver cleanse.

For more information, or for an assessment form, visit www.annellenorman.com.