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The keys, the cell phone, an appointment, the name of a colleague, what you had to buy at the supermarket … many of us lose and forget things several times a day.
But how do you know when it is an oversight by mere distraction and when an incipient health problem?
Andrew Budson, a professor of neurology at the Medical Faculty of the University of Boston, fighting face to face with this question in his book ” Seven Steps to Managing Your Memory -What’s Normal, What’s Not, and What to s Do About It , ” which published in 2017
For now the book is not available in Spanish, but at Rava we speak with this expert in memory disorders to know what is normal and what is not when forgetting things is about.
For starters, a fact that can take many by surprise and depress many others: “Believe it or not, memory reaches its peak at 20, ” said Budson.
That would explain why it is easier to learn a language or study a career when we are younger. From there, our capacity decreases in a “fairly straight” line , according to the neurologist.
So our memory at 30 and 40 is not as good as at 20.
What is normal at what age
According to the expert, with age there are three changes in memory that are considered normal and are part of the natural aging process.
The first is that people begin to need that they sometimes repeat something several times to be able to store it in memory.
The second is that, when we try to recover a memory, as we get older, it takes us a little longer to achieve it: it takes us longer to “find” that information.
And the third is that sometimes we need a clue to recover it.
In a “normal” aging if the information entered correctly into our memory store we should be able to access it.
Budson says that these three changes in the quality of our memory may begin to be felt from as early as at 40 or 50 years.
“And by the time we reach 60, 70 and 80 almost all healthy adults will have some of these problems.”
What is not normal
On the other hand, explains Budson, when there are memory problems that are not normal , even when you repeat the information or give the person time to “look for it”, or give him clues they can not recover it.
That happens, for example, in the case of people who have Alzheimer’s.
The great distinction, explains the neurologist, is whether or not the information can be recovered , even with the help of time and clues, when we know that it was correctly stored.
On the other hand there are different memory disorders and not all are related to age or dementia.
Disorders such as depression and anxiety, lack of vitamins, or hypothyroidism, among others, as well as the side effects of certain medications, can cause memory problems, but fortunately they are evils that can be treated.
In the case of medication side effects, a change in treatment, always under medical supervision, can cause a memory problem to improve dramatically, says Budson.
When to ask for help: two warning signs
But how to know when to ask for help? In reality it is not so easy for a person to identify what changes in his memory are “normal” for his age and which are not.
“It can be difficult,” admits Budson. ” I do not think it’s intuitive .”
What the neurologist recommends, if you have doubts, is to honestly ask your friends or relatives what they think , to know if they have noticed any change.
In general there are two alarm signals, says Budson, that can worry us.
“One is when people tend to repeat themselves, to ask the same questions constantly or to tell the same stories over and over again without realizing that they are repeating that information.
“The other is when someone loses the ability to do something they could do before, such as managing bank accounts.”
5 ways to improve memory
According to Budson “anyone can learn to remember things better”.
For this, according to the neurologist, you can adopt changes in lifestyle that help store memories in an optimal way, in addition to applying techniques to recover them better.
1. To sleep well and sufficiently, not to be tired and also to give our brain the opportunity to process memory from the “temporary store” of short-term memory to the “permanent store” of long-term memories.
2. Eat a healthy diet. According to Budson, the only diet that has been repeatedly proven to be beneficial for the brain and therefore for memory is the Mediterranean, which regularly includes fish, olive oil, avocados, fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes and whole grains.
3. Exercise: “the magic solution”. “It’s amazing all the things that exercise can help,” emphasizes the neurologist.
“Exercise can help improve mood as much as any antidepressant,” Budson said, “and also sleep,” which is key to memory.
“Exercise also triggers growth factors in the brain, something that can increase the size of the hippocampus , which is the part where new memories are formed.”
“It has also been shown to improve memory in young, healthy adults and to delay the decline of memory in patients who are in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s.”
“So people ask me if there is a magic solution for memory problems and I say yes: it’s called exercise.”
“We recommend that people do at least 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise, five days a week, plus two hours a week of exercise that helps strengthen flexibility, such as yoga or tai chi.”
4. Pay more attention . Many times we do not remember things because we are distracted or stressed doing a lot without paying attention, even if there is no cognitive deterioration. Mindfulness meditation can be a good strategy to help our memory.
5. Implement tricks and techniques to remember data better . For example to remember names of people it helps to repeat the name out loud, think about concepts or people related to that name or create a mental image of their initials. When it comes to studying, taking notes is much more effective than underlining, says Budson.
On the other hand, says the expert, it has not been scientifically proven that the products that are promoted for brain training help improve memory. “They can be entertaining, but they do not correlate with a better memory,” says the neurologist.