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Staving off old age memory decline

About the author: 

A MacArthur Foundation study found that keeping close contacts with others and remaining involved in other people's lives predicted successful ageing (Kahn RL, Rowe JW

* Don't isolate yourself. A MacArthur Foundation study found that keeping close contacts with others and remaining involved in other people's lives predicted successful ageing (Kahn RL, Rowe JW. Successful Aging. New York: Pantheon, 1998).

* Take aerobic exercise. In a five-year study of men and women aged 65 and older, the researchers found that exercisers were less likely to develop Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia, or to see a drop-off in mental ability. Any exercise was a help, but vigorous exercise three times a week resulted in a 40 per cent lower risk of Alzheimer's, especially in women (Arch Neurol, 2001; 58: 498-504).

* Learn memory-boosting techniques. A good memory doesn't depend on intelligence, but on how you use your brain. On comparing finalists in the World Memory Championships with people who have normal memory capacity, almost all of the memory superstars used a system involving visualisation techniques - linking things to be remembered to memorable visual clues. Brain scans confirmed the findings by revealing measurable changes in the superstars' hippocampus (Nature Neurosci, 2002; 6: 90-5).
age-related conditions, memory loss, successful ageing, social isolation, aerobic exercise, Alzheimer's disease, dementia, mental ability, visualisation techniques, hippocampus, risk factors

Special report
Tony Edwards
Memory loss
How can memory loss be prevented, and memory improved?

Nutrients to take
* A good all-round vitamin/mineral supplement - helps cognition in general, especially in the old (Nutrition, 2001; 17: 709-12)

* A daily 2000-IU dose of vitamin E - can delay cognitive decline (JAMA, 1997; 278: 1363-71)

* Vitamin B6 - especially useful for older individuals (Psychopharmacology [Berl], 1992; 109: 489-96)

* Vitamin C - protects brain health (Alzheim Dis Assoc Disord, 1998; 12: 121-6 [ISI]; J Neural Transm, 2003; 110: 95-110)

* Iron - even a minor deficiency will impair memory

* Essential fatty acids - omega-3 improves memory and fends off dementia (Evid Rep Technol Assess [Summ], 2005; 114: 1-3); high levels of omega-6 protect against Alzheimer's (Arch Neurol, 2003; 60: 194-200). A combined omega-3/-6 capsule improved children's memory by at least 10 per cent (unpublished study by Dr Madeleine Portwood, senior educational psychologist, May 2005).

'Smart' drugs
Acetylcholine precursors
* Lecithin - improves mild cognitive disorders (W Fortschr Med, 2004; 146: 99-106)

* Choline - just 3.75 g improves memory within 90 minutes (Clin Neuropharmacol, 1993; 16: 540-9)

* CDP-choline (citicoline, or cytidine-5-diphosphocholine) - shows promise for improving old people's memory (Altern Med Rev, 2004; 9: 17-31)

* Choline alfoscerate - can help mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's (Clin Ther, 2003; 25: 178-93)

* DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol) - improves overall mental performance, particularly memory (Eur J Med Res, 1996; 1: 283- 90). Take at least 100 mg/day for three weeks

* Phosphatidylserine (PS) - improves several cognitive measures. Take 100 mg three times a day for at least 12 weeks (Psychopharmacol Bull, 1992; 28: 61-6).

Amino acids
* Pyroglutamate (piracetam) - reverses age-related memory loss. Take 400-1000 mg/day (Fundam Clin Pharmacol, 1990; 4: 169-73)

* Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) - improves memory (Drugs Exp Clin Res, 1994; 20: 169-76), but is expensive.

* Gingko biloba - improves memory, concentration and mood (Lancet, 1992; 340: 1136-9); 120 mg/day restored the mental ability of 60- to 80-year-olds to young people's levels (JAMA, 1997; 278: 1327-32)

* Ginseng - a single 400-mg dose can improve the speed of performing memory tasks" (Physiol Behav, 2002; 75: 739-51)

* Vinpocetine (derived from periwinkle) - just 40 mg improves memory in one hour (Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry, 2002; 26: 233-9)

* Brahmi (gotu kola, Centella asiatica) - a proven Ayurvedic memory enhancer (Psychopharmacology [Berl], 2001; 156: 481-4)

* Cordyceps - a Chinese mushroom found to improve memory in animal studies (Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi, 2004; 29: 773-6).

Lifestyle changes
* Be physically active - exercise improves memory, but don't become dehydrated (Acta Psychol [Amst], 2003; 112: 297-324)

* Keep your body mass index (BMI) below 25 - anything above raises dementia risk (BMJ, 2005; 29 April; e-pub ahead of print)

* Drink plenty of water - even mild dehydration impairs memory (Eur J Clin Nutr, 2003; 57 [Suppl 2]: S24-9)

* Be mentally active - use it or lose it (Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 2001; 98: 3440-5)

* Diet - choose a Mediterranean diet with lots of olive oil and moderate amounts of red wine (Rec Prog Med, 2000; 91: 127-34); stick to a low glycaemic-index diet [see The Secret of Long-evity (WDDTY, 2004)] to prevent diabetes (see text); avoid foods containing saturated and trans-unsaturated fat, as they increase the risk of Alzheimer's (Arch Neurol, 2003; 60: 194-200)

* Avoid unhealthy stress - although positive stress is beneficial (Neuro Endocrinol Lett, 2002; 23: 199-208).

Staving off the inevitable

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