Case Studies

Preserve Your Memory, Sharpen Your Mind

| September/October 2005

Do you ever close your eyes and enjoy the nostalgia brought on by remembering good times with friends, family, your first date? Our memories are precious, especially as we get older, or if we are unable to go out and have new adventures because of physical or mental limitations.

Our memories are a valuable and fragile part of who we are, yet we don’t often think of how we might be able to preserve and even enhance this priceless resource. There are ways to do so, however, and the earlier we begin them, the better chance we have of staying sharp throughout our lives.

Practice Makes Perfect

Many older people joke about failing memory by saying, “I’m having a senior moment.” But memory does not have to get worse with age. Because memory is a function of the physical workings of the brain, the health of the whole body is going to make a big difference. Nutrition, exercise, positive thinking and using our minds for studying new things (like a language, musical instrument or anything we find fascinating) all can help boost brain power.

Problems with memory aren’t often the primary reason people come in to see me, but the issue frequently arises during consultations. Over the years, many patients older than 40 or 50 have mentioned they have trouble remembering names, numbers, where they put their keys and things they have to do during the day. Women have told me they have more trouble with memory before and during their menses, which might relate to changes in estrogen and other hormones. I have noticed that patients with cardiovascular disease and liver disease often have memory problems.

The Stress Connection

A patient I saw regularly for a number of years, Sam, represents many people I have talked with who complain about memory loss. Sam was 52 years old, had a stressful job, two kids in college, was somewhat overweight, and enjoyed drinking coffee in the morning and alcohol at night.

“It all started about two years ago when I couldn’t find my car keys several times in one week,” Sam told me. “I had to search for 20 minutes the first time, and after a few days, it happened again. Then I started having a lot of trouble remembering names of people I met in my job. I had to carry a notebook and write everything down.”

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