Alzheimer's Awareness

Alzheimer’s Awareness Month: Keeping Your Brain Healthy

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. So, in honor of Alzheimer’s Disease, I wanted to talk a little about memory loss. One common concern I hear from patients of all ages is that they are worried they may have memory problems. Contrary to popular belief, memory problems can affect people of any age. Forgetting names, misplacing keys, leaving the garage door open, and an inability to concentrate are frequent examples. However, it is important to know that not all memory loss is due to Alzheimer’s Disease. Below are some things that can negatively impact your memory and, therefore, the health of your brain:

  1. Lack of exercise: Technology has changed such that we can sit behind a desk and order food, buy clothes, watch movies, and read the news; we can basically live our entire lives behind a computer screen if we wanted. As people retire, they become even less active. Studies have shown that exercise can greatly improve your brain health and circulation. The optimal amount of exercise is approximately 30 minutes of aerobic activity approximately 5 days a week. Start at a gentle pace, and work up to your goal slowly. (1) (2) (3)
  2. Routine: As we grow older, our tendency to learn new activities slows. To make sure you are maximizing your brain’s abilities, stimulate your brain often and in different ways. Take up a new hobby, learn a new language, participate in a new physical activity, or engage in puzzles (e.g., Sudoku, crosswords). A broad array of different activity types exercises different parts of your brain. (3)
  3. Poor nutrition: Soft drinks, junk food, and processed foods have become the norm in our society. These may contribute to weight gain and other diseases that hinder brain health. Studies have shown that high intake of fish and omega-3 fatty acids may decrease the risk of cognitive impairment. On the other hand, higher incidences of Alzheimer’s disease were found in individuals that had a high dietary intake of saturated fats and trans-unsaturated fats. Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables is an excellent way to promote brain health. Blueberries and strawberries are high in flavonoids, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may have protective effects on your brain. (3)
  4. Chronic health conditions: Uncontrolled high blood pressure, diabetes, history of stroke, and thyroid disease are common conditions that have negative effects on brain function. Make sure you follow up with your primary care doctor yearly for a preventative physical to make sure you don’t have any of the above disorders which may contribute to memory loss. (4) ( 5)
  5. Medications: Many medications can affect memory. One type that can negatively affect your brain is the benzodiazepines (e.g., lorazepam, alprazolam). These medications are highly prescribed due to their anti-anxiety effects, though they may impair learning. Unfortunately, there are no medications that have been proven to positively affect memory. There are conflicting studies on caffeine: though it may keep you awake for a longer period, it doesn’t necessarily improve the efficiency of learning. Ginkgo biloba, too, has long been thought to enhance memory; however no study has been able to prove that. (6) (7)

Many other things can negatively affect brain health, too, including depression, , traumatic brain injury, and stress. If you feel that your memory is impaired, it’s a good idea to discuss your concerns with your primary care doctor. He or she will be able to help narrow down the cause and, hopefully, guide you toward an effective treatment plan.


(1) Erickson KL, Weinstein AM, et al, Physical Activity, brain plasticity, and Alzheimer’s disease; Arch Med Res, Nov 2012, 43 (8) 615-621

(2) Balsamo S, Willardson JM,et al, Effectiveness of exercise on cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease; Int J Gen Med, May 2013, 24 (6) 387-391

(3) Mora F, Successful brain aging: plasticity, environmental enrichment, and lifestyle; Dialogues Clin Neurosci; March 2013, 15 (1) 45-52

(4) Mangialasche F, Kivipelto M; Dementia prevention: current epidemiological evidence and future perspective; Alzheimers Res Ther; Feb 2012, 13 (4) 6

(5) Starr VL, Convit A; Diabetes, sugar-coated but harmful to the brain, Curr Opin Pharmacol, Dec 2007, 7 (6) 638-642

(6) Savic MM, Obradovic DI, et al, Memory effects of Benzodiazepines: memory stages and types versus binding-site subtypes; Neural Plast 2005, 12 (4) 289-298

(7) Fransen HP, Pelgrom SM, et al, Assessment of health claims, content and safety of herbal supplements containing Ginkgo Biloba; Food Nutr Res, Sep 2010, 30 (54)