As Americans are living longer and thriving into their 70s, 80s and beyond, they’re also dealing with the effects of old age, including memory loss.
Some are turning to dietary supplements to help preserve their minds, but “there’s no evidence these brain tonics work. They’re more hype than hope,” said Dr. Marc Agronin, board certified geriatric psychiatrist and vice president for behavioral health and clinical research at Miami Jewish Health Systems, a network of assisted living facilities.
“There’s no question with more attention on Alzheimer’s, concerns about memory loss are becoming more common. I’m seeing more and more younger people coming in complaining about memory lapses,” said Agronin, author of “The Dementia Caregiver.”
Supplements are not medicine
Manufacturers are heavily marketing memory enhancers or memory pills to adults looking for drugs to help combat the effects of aging. Some make big claims that suggest their products can be used as treatments for diseases including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently reviewed hundreds of dietary supplements claiming to improve memory and found that many made misleading claims.
“Medications are highly regulated. Dietary supplements are not. The crackdown on supplements is happening because they’re not subject to the same rules (as medicines). People are looking for a miracle, but these companies are selling something not helping someone,” Agronin said.
As people age, cognitive function tends to slow down, Agronin said. While it varies from person to person, memory loss is a normal part of aging.
“There is a decline. There are more tip-of-the-tongue experiences as we get older,” Agronin said.
Memory disorders are quite common, and age is the main risk factor, Agronin said. But, that doesn’t take into account the benefits of aging.
“Other things improve. You have more experience. Wisdom and creativity improve,” Agronin said.
Memory concerns are also subjective. What might bother one person may not concern another.
What can be treated
If memory issues are frequent and bothersome, it’s worth having them checked out either by an internist, neurologist or gerontologist.
“Medically, they can see if everything is good,” Agronin said.
Often memory loss symptoms are relatively benign and more treatable than commonly thought, Agronin said. Some reasons a person may be experiencing memory loss include depression, low thyroid, sleep disorders, substance abuse and side effects from drug interactions. Many are reversible factors, but the longer you wait the harder they can be to treat, Agronin said.
To maintain a healthy brain, keep a healthy lifestyle.
“What’s good for the heart is also what’s good for the brain,” Agronin said. Eat a diet (like the Mediterranean diet) low in fat, high in fruits and vegetables. “Do things that you enjoy that keep your mind, body and soul active,” Agronin said. That can mean Sudoku or computer games, long walks or vigorous exercise, learning a new language or actively baby-sitting your grandchildren.