Haims column: Memory loss, cognition and exercise
Exercise has many benefits to the overall health of people at any age. With a global increase in the senior population, much research is being conducted concerning physical activity and brain aging.
Age-related cognitive decline is a normal part of aging. As with any living organism, the brain has a life cycle. While most of the cells within our brains were formed during prenatal development, a part of the brain is capable of producing new cells. Our hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in the formation and retrieval of memories, learning and emotions, continues to create cells as we age. This process is called neurogenesis.
Studies from the University of Edinburgh and UCLA’s School of Medicine have confirmed that exercise and increasing the oxygen levels of blood within the brain aid greatly in promoting healthy brain tissue and neurogenesis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2½-hours of moderate cardio and two days of muscle strengthening every week can greatly help slow down memory loss. Achieving this is not difficult, and it can be accomplished by breaking down an exercise regimen into 10-15 minute intervals twice a day. Walking, swimming/pool exercises, dancing and balance classes are all exercises that make you breathe faster and increase your heart rate, and can keep you feeling and looking your best.
While exercise is a very helpful component in modifying memory loss, it is only one of many influences. There are many other factors that can contribute to memory impairment. One of the most frequent associations I see that contribute to cognitive concerns is medications. Although medications provide many benefits, they can also have unwelcoming side effects. Too often I see that prescription drugs cause my clients momentary or even continual issues with cognitive impairment.
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When medications are taken improperly and/or skipped many unfavorable outcomes may occur: Memory concerns are just one such possibility. Common medications like antidepressants, antihistamines, anti-anxiety medications, muscle relaxers, tranquilizers, sleeping pills and pain medications often affect people’s cognitive capacities. These types of medications can wreak havoc on people. If you take any of these, you should not dismiss the potential for memory and cognitive impairment as a side effect.
For people that may suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s, forgetting to take their medications is not uncommon. Often the opposite is true: They forget whether they took their medication, and thus they may take doses again. Having family or a caregiver remind them of the appropriate times to take their medication can be very helpful. Using a pill organizer or a computerized pill box dispenser is another tool we often use to aid clients in taking their meds on a regular and prescribed basis.
Many commonly prescribed medications often place older adults at higher risk of not only memory loss, but also delirium, falls, fractures and loss of motor skill functions. I find that sleeping and depression medications such as Ativan, Klonopin, Xanax, Ambien and Diazepam are some of the most prevalent contributors to cognitive side effects. While not appropriate for all people, you may want to consult your doctor about the possibility of trying alternatives such as melatonin, doxylamine, valerian and chamomile.
Studies suggest that S-Adenosyl methionine (SAMe) may help treat depression. SAMe plays a role in the immune system, maintains cell membranes and helps produce and break down brain chemicals, such as serotonin, melatonin and dopamine. Studies at the University of Maryland Medical Center and other research facilities have shown that SAMe may also help relieve the pain of osteoarthritis and treat depression.
It’s important to consult a doctor if you notice the onset of sudden memory complications or unusual mood swings in yourself or in someone close to you. Asking your doctor if there are side effects to medications they prescribe is always a good start to developing a plan of action.
There are no guarantees when it comes to preventing memory loss and/or dementia. However, exercise is increasingly proving to assist in brain atrophy and grey matter volume. The same practices that contribute to healthy living and physical vitality also contribute to a healthy memory.
The brain is a muscle that requires nutrition, rest and exercise. Use it or lose it.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Garfield and Pitkin counties. His contact information is, http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526
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