This article was originally published in Never Too Late (PCOA News). View the original article here.
Memory problems are a common can do, however, that seem to decrease occurrence for many people in their 70’s and beyond. In fact, it’s estimated that one in three older adults experience difficulty with their memory on a regular basis. Normal age-related memory changes aren’t like the severe, debilitating loss of memory function that is experienced by a person living with Alzheimer’s disease. These are more subtle ‘memory slips’ that happen throughout our lives, but as we get older, they become more frequent. They’re little annoying things, like forgetting where you put your glasses,
or where you parked the car. For most people, age-related memory changes are relatively mild. However, for some people, memory loss can become sufficiently serious that it begins to interfere with the quality of their daily lives. Some people may forget to take their medications on a regular basis, or forget whether they paid the electric bill. Of course, many people devise clever ways to cope with memory changes – we might adopt a strategy like writing post-it notes or to-do lists as reminders for our daily tasks. One person I know sets her medication right beside her glasses on the night stand before she goes to bed. When she gets up in the morning, she puts her glasses on and then immediately reaches for her pills. For her, it’s a surefire way to remember to take her medication every day.
I’m often asked if age-related memory problems can be prevented through lifestyle choices like diet and exercise. I wish it were true, but sadly, we really the risk of experiencing memory loss as we age. And, as a bonus, many of these same things may also decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Collectively, these can be summed up as “good for the heart, good for the brain”. Maintaining heart health helps
to maintain brain health, and may also decrease risk for Alzheimer’s disease. The Mediterranean diet is one lifestyle choice that has been shown through scientific studies to have multiple health benefits. It’s associated with lower risk for cardiovascular disease, lower risk for certain types of cancers, and an overall lower mortality rate. Interestingly, in 2006, researchers at Columbia University (Scarmeas et al., 2006) found evidence that adherence to the diet over a ten year period was associated with a substantial decrease in risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The good news is that this isn’t some restrictive diet that leaves you hungry and grumpy! Many people would simply call the Mediterranean diet ‘healthy’ – lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, and oily fish like salmon and sardines. Healthy unsaturated fats are included too – especially olive oil and avocado – as well as a moderate amount of dairy, particularly from hard cheeses like parmesan. But the diet is low in red meats, poultry, and saturated fats. Many of the foods included in the diet have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, such as colorful vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, and garlic, which may be the reason we see these health benefits. If there’s one ‘rule’ that will get you immediately closer to eating Mediterranean style, it’s this: Eat by the rainbow. Include fruits and vegetables of all colors in your daily meals – yellow, purple, green, red, and orange. Your heart and your brain will thank you.
Diet is just one of the many factors that researchers at the University of Arizona’s Precision Aging Network are considering, as we explore new ways to prevent and treat age-related memory impairment. If you’d like to hear more about our studies, or if you’d be interested in participating, send us an email at [email protected]. We’ll tell you about some great opportunities to get involved. I’ll look forward to hearing from you!
Lee Ryan is a Professor and Head of the Psychology Department at the University of Arizona. She is a researcher studying aging and Alzheimer’s disease, and is a member of the Precision Aging Network.