One of the scariest things I think about (and believe me, my anxiety keeps me busy worrying about all sorts of things!) is one day losing my memory. How many times have I walked into a room only to forget what I went in there for? So many times. I have to read a page in a book a couple times before the information really sinks in. Some days I feel fuzzy, or cloudy, or just flat out distracted. Alzheimer’s runs in my family, so this is of course the thought spiral my anxiety takes me down.
Deep breaths >>> None of these symptoms mean I have dementia.
Good news >>> There are lots of small things I can do that will have a big impact on improving my cognitive functioning.
Here are the top tips I give to my patients and I’d like to share with you:
1. Minimize alcohol intake. I know, I know. Where’s the fun in that? And yet, it’s still true. Heavy alcohol use causes your liver to release enzymes that make your brain cloudy. It’s called Hepatic Encephalopathy.
2. Cardio-aerobic exercise. Regular and rapid blood flow to the brain = improved focus and concentration.
3. Exercise your brain with games. Two Dots. Crossword puzzles. WordScapes. Sudoku. The Lumosity app. These are all brain re-wiring disguised as fun.
4. Detox your surroundings. Eliminate harmful chemicals in your environment.
5. Give your day structure. It’s harder to forget things and get distracted when you develop a routine of doing the same thing every day.
6. Consider any prescription medications that making your cognitive functioning worse. The most common ones I see are statin cholesterol medications, benzodiazepines, and pain medications, including topamax.
7. Say things out loud, write them down, and explain them to others. This improves memory and recall.
8. Get enough sleep. It’s rejuvenating and restoring. Like a high-end shampoo or something. Your brain is cleansed the most when you sleep at night. Toxins get flushed out. Short-term memories become long-term memories.
9. Stick to a gluten-free, sugar-free diet. I know, nutrition is complicated sometimes, but gluten and sugar are inflammatory agents. We also know that Alzheimer’s is now being considered an issue of excess sugar, and has been nicknamed Type 3 diabetes. This inflammation spreads throughout your body via your bloodstream; this includes those fragile blood vessels in your brain. Also, adding healthy fats (like those found in avocados, fish and cheese to your diet) boost your brainpower.
10. Mindfulness and Meditation. Why? This leads to decreased stress. Chronic stress is death to your brain and your spirit.
11. Learn new things. Take a photography class. Learn to quilt. Perhaps piano lessons. (spoiler alert: learning new things are supposed to be hard). Sadly, I see many people who decline in cognitive function quite rapidly when they retire. When they no longer have the structure of a workday and tasks to occupy their brain waves, their brain gets kind of mushy.
12. Keep isolation at bay. Stay in community with others. Do sharp, witty people draw in many friends because they are witty? Or are they witty because they have many friends? I’m inclined to believe the latter.
Here are some supplements to consider to boost your cognitive functioning:
· Omega 3 Fatty Acid Fish oil. It’s anti-inflammatory, and cushions the healthy fat surrounding your brain. Look for a supplement that has a good balance of DHA and EPA.
· Phosphatidyl-serine Complex. It’s the new generation of your grandmother’s Ginkgo Biloba. Look for a formulation that includes hyperzine A and choline.
· L-Tyrosine, Acetyl-l-carnitine, and Phenylalanine. These supplements work to increase dopamine, which is very important for cognitive functioning.
· N-acetylcysteine and Vitamin B12. NAC is an antioxidant that is a precursor to the uber-antioxidant, glutathione. Vitamin B12 is important as an ingredient in making various neurotransmitters.
· Lithium Orotate. Baby doses of Lithium will spark neurogenesis, a/k/a the birth of new baby brain cells. Lithium also disrupts the key enzyme responsible for the development of the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
· Zinc. Very helpful in people with ADHD since Zinc is an ingredient for making dopamine and GABA.
· Yerba-mate brewed tea is helpful for focus and attention symptoms.
· Essential oils such as rosemary, sage, jasmine, and peppermint can also be useful to enhance cognition.
I hope these tips have been helpful to you friends! Have a great Saturday!
DISCLAIMER: I’ve said this before, but don’t forget! Whoever you are: unless you are living in my household (which I think I would have noticed), it’s very unlikely that I have any idea what sort of medical history, medication regimen, allergies, and any other health intricacies you carry. Therefore, you should NOT interpret the above as medical advice for yourself, and instead present this information to your personal clinician for consideration.