As we age our bodies go through many “normal” changes such as skin becoming less elastic, hair beginning to thin, hearing and vision acuity decreasing, sleep patterns changing, bone density diminishing, and metabolism slowing. Perhaps the most frustrating of all are changes to our memory — our ability to recall recent memories, names and details is often affected.
Some memory lapses are considered “normal” such as absentmindedness – misplacing car keys, forgetting your wallet or purse; scrambling – confusing details of events; blocking – words are on the tip of your tongue but you can’t recall them; fade out – the inability to recall memories over time; retrieval – recalling the name of a person you just met or a movie you just saw; muddled multitasking – loss of the ability to do more than one task at a time. [Mary A. Fischer for AARP]
As one might expect, alcohol, cigarettes, sleep deprivation, vitamin deficiencies, stress and numerous injuries and diseases can significantly impact memory, but research is now showing that prescription drugs designed to treat a variety of medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, prevent seizures, relieve pain, treat depression and anxiety, relieve allergy symptoms and treat incontinence may contribute to memory loss.
In an article by Armon B. Neel Jr., PharmD, CGP, a board-certified geriatric pharmacist who has devoted his career to guiding health professionals and older adults in the appropriate use of medication, has discussed the impact of these frequently prescribed medications on memory. And the results may be significant, especially as we age. The effects on memory of some of the more widely prescribed drugs are outlined below.
Anti-anxiety drugs – (Benzodiazepines) ex. Xanax, Librium, Klonopin, Halcion – slow activity in key parts of the brain that help in the transfer of short term to long-term memory.. If your physician has prescribed these drugs, do not reduce or discontinue use without first consulting your physician.
Antidepressants – (tricyclic antidepressants) ex. Elavil, Norpramin, Sinequan, Pamelor – 35 percent of adults report memory impairment and 54 percent report difficulty concentrating while using these types of antidepressants. TCA’s block the action of serotonin and norepinephrine — key chemical messengers in the brain. Work with your physician to explore non-drug alternatives or a reduction in dosage.
Drugs for reducing cholesterol – (Statins) Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor – not only do these drugs reduce cholesterol in the blood, they also reduce cholesterol levels in the brain which is vital to the formation of connections between nerve cells. One-quarter of the cholesterol in your body is stored in the brain. As an alternative consider (with your physician) a cocktail of sublingual B-12 (1,000 micrograms daily), folic acid (800 micrograms daily, and vitamin B6 (200 milligrams daily).
Narcotic painkillers – (opiod analgesics) ex. Norco, Vicodin, Dilaudid, OxyContin, Percocet — the purpose of these drugs is to block the flow of pain signals in the central nervous system, but the effects can interfere with long and short-term memory by disturbing chemical messengers in the brain, especially if they are used over a long period of time. Work with your physician to explore non-narcotic alternatives such as non-narcotic tramadol. Combining tramadol with Tylenol may be an effective alternative.
High Blood Pressure Drugs – (Beta-blockers) ex. Coreg, Betapace, Lopressor, Inderal – these drugs slow heart rate and lower blood pressure, but it is widely believed that they also interfere with key chemical messengers in the brain. Ask your physician if a benzothiazepine calcium channel blocker would be effective in your treatment.
Antihistamines – (First-generation) ex. Chlor-Trimeton, Benadryl, Tavist – these medications inhibit activity in the memory and learning centers which can cause memory loss. Claritin and Zyrtec are considered newer generation and do not present the same risks as first-generation antihistamines.
If you are taking more than one of these memory-draining drugs, the effects may be exacerbated. Again, consult your physician to explore healthy alternatives.
There are many ways that you can improve your memory. Exercise, diet and sleep are important. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and enhances the effects of helpful brain chemicals and also protects brain cells. Diets that include a lot of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats (such as nuts and fish) and lean protein can improve your memory. If your diet includes red meat, whole milk, butter, cheese, sour cream, and ice cream this can increase your risk of dementia and impair concentration and memory. Eating too many calories as you age can also increase your risk of cognitive impairment. Sleep is also critical to brain function and is necessary for memory consolidation.
There are also things you can do now to improve your brain function. To remember facts use association; create an image in your mind. For example, if you’re trying to remember a name, try associating it with an image — Martha Muir might conjure the image of Martha Washington taking a hike on the John Muir trail. It also helps to repeat a person’s name back to them — “nice to meet you Martha.” If you’re trying to remember a numeric string, consider grouping the numbers into a meaningful sequence. I remember my new home address by adding the numbers together in sequence.
Group similar things together — if you forget your grocery list for example, try to recall fruits, vegetables, meats, and collective items. Rhyming is also a fun way to help your memory — 30 days has September, April, June and November … Brain games like Sudoku and crossword puzzles are also effective in strengthening your mind.
There are also “brain games” you can play online — Lumosity is a popular online brain game that will help you improve your memory, attention, speed, flexibility, and problem solving. Visit www.lumosity.com. Nintendo offers a game called BrainAge for their Nintendo DS which estimates the age of your brain based on a number of exercises. You can then work to improve your brain age through a number of exercises — the more you do them, the “younger” your brain gets. It only requires a few minutes of your time each day.
Use Google, Bing or Yahoo to search “brain games” and you’ll find a plethora of results designed to help you maximize your brain power.
“Every man’s memory is his private literature.” Aldous Huxley
Category: Idyllwild News