It’s a fact of life – we are all aging. Although we all aspire to a long, healthy, productive life, aging comes with a gradual decline in physical and mental capacity and a growing risk of illness. According to a Research America national poll, Americans worry about staying healthy as they age, but losing their mental faculty and becoming a burden on their loved ones is their single biggest fear.
It was Bette Davis who said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies!” Many people dread growing older; however, there is increasing evidence that suggests age is just a number and that you can enjoy excellent health and remain vibrant and productive as you age.
No matter how old you are, though, improving your memory, enhancing focus and concentration, and speeding up your decision-making processes are just as important.
There are positive protocols you can incorporate into your life that will help improve your cognitive abilities, brain-based skills such as memory, focus, and executive function. This guide will provide insights into how lifestyle, mental stimulation, social interaction, and supplementation can improve memory, attention, and concentration, enabling you to experience dramatically better overall health.
What Everyone Is Afraid Of – Cognitive Impairment
The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) tells us that over 16 million people in the U.S. live with cognitive impairment and an estimated 5.1 million have Alzheimer’s disease. These numbers will continue to accelerate through 2050. Americans are twice as fearful of cognitive decline and memory loss as they are of diminished physical abilities. Anyone who has experienced the change in a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s, going from a vibrant, healthy, engaged individual to someone who can barely function and doesn’t remember or recognize anyone understands this fear.
Age-Related Memory Loss – Mild Cognitive Impairment, Dementia, And Alzheimer’s
All three conditions are linked to aging, and although associated, they are not the same and do not affect all people in the same ways.
Mild Cognitive Impairment
MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment) is memory loss considered above average for a person’s age, but not as progressive as dementia. At this stage, symptoms are typically not severe but are noticeable. Although people with MCI have an above-average risk of developing dementia, in some instances, it will remain stable and may be reversed or resolved.
“Dementia” describes symptoms including memory impairment, reasoning, language, and other executive function and thinking skills – unlike MCI, dementia always worsens over time, affecting a person’s ability to work and their social interactions. Quite often, memory loss is the first recognizable sign of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia causes about 90% of dementia cases.
Alzheimer’s is a progressively debilitating disease. People with Alzheimer’s have difficulty remembering names, places, people, and events. The disease slowly destroys memory and other mental faculties, making even routine tasks difficult, ultimately resulting in death. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia among older persons affecting nearly 50% of those over 85.
Other Medical Problems Related To Memory Loss
Not every instance of memory loss is related to dementia. Other medical issues may cause reversible memory impairment that can be treated medically. Other possible causes of memory loss or confusion include:
- Prescription medications
- Head trauma
- Emotional disorders
- Vitamin B-12 deficiency
- Hypothyroidism – an underactive thyroid gland
- Brain tumor or infection
Whether you are a college student or nearing retirement, the following practices can enhance your cognitive abilities. Several of the brands we review quite frankly are targeted more towards a younger demographic than the elderly. Improving your memory, better focus and concentration, speeding your decision-making processes are just as important regardless of age.
Lifestyle Habits For Improving Memory: Avoiding Risk Factors
We all know there are excellent reasons to either quit smoking or better yet never start. Once you stop, you reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, lung disease, other illnesses, and dementia. Smoking damages your blood vessels’ structure, making it more difficult for blood to flow into the brain, while it also reduces the oxygen level in your blood. Smoking has also been linked to oxidative stress, which is related to the onset of dementia.
Everything in moderation. There is some evidence that moderate consumption of alcohol reduces the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. An occasional cocktail is permissible, but we suggest men limit their intake to no more than two drinks per day, and one drink per day for women.
A JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association) study suggests that heavy drinkers—defined as more than four drinks per day had a 22% higher risk of contracting Alzheimer’s than nondrinkers.
Proactive Regimens For Improving Memory
In addition to risk-avoidance, there are positive protocols to benefit memory and your general well- being.
A diet low in fat and rich in fruits and vegetables, such as the Mediterranean Diet, is a heart-healthy choice that may help protect cognitive health. The Mediterranean is widely recognized as promoting better cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of certain cancers, and may protect against cognitive decline. The diet appears to lower the risk of developing MCI and slows the progression to dementia.
Health experts believe physical exercise has the best evidence for preserving mental function with aging. Exercise, as simple as a simple thirty-minute daily walk, may be one of the best things you can do for your body, including your brain. Studies show that engaging in regular exercise programs improves cognitive function, even in people with memory issues. Exercise also reduces risk factors for other conditions such as cardiovascular disease, which indirectly enhances brain health.
Getting at least seven hours of good-quality sleep per night improves overall health and may prevent cognitive decline. Our bodies rely on sleep for rest and recovery and a variety of other essential functions, many of them in the brain. Learning and memories are consolidated during sleep.
Research illustrates that those with strong social ties are less likely to experience cognitive declines. In his NY Times best-seller, Blue Zones, author Dan Buettner identifies social interaction as a crucial element for health and longevity – social engagement makes life more satisfying. He theorizes social connections may be as vital as physical activity and a healthy diet. Social activities require you to engage in several important mental processes, including attention and memory, which can bolster cognition.
Exercises For Improved Cognition
Use it – or lose it. Regularly stimulating your brain is another essential way to prevent memory loss and cognitive decline. Using the computer, playing games, reading books, and other intellectual activities may help preserve function. Other exercises to stimulate the brain:
- Crossword puzzles
- Learn a new language
- Play chess
- Learn a musical instrument
When To See Your Doctor
If you are having frequent memory lapses and are concerned about memory loss, see your doctor. He will most likely conduct a general physical and order additional tests to determine the degree of impairment if necessary. If warranted, he may refer you to a specialist in diagnosing dementia or memory disorders, such as a neurologist, psychiatrist, or psychologist.
Early detection is crucial as Identifying a reversible cause of memory impairment enables you to get appropriate treatment. An early diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment or dementia allows you to manage the symptoms now and plan accordingly.
Identify And Address Underlying Health Conditions
Other underlying health conditions besides MCI can make you forgetful or reduce mental acuity. Identifying and treating these conditions can help improve your general health and overall cognitive function. Some other conditions that can affect memory include:
- High blood pressure
- Sleep apnea
Supplement Ingredients For Improving Memory And Cognition
One of the fastest-growing segments in the nutritional supplement space is nootropics. These products are scientifically formulated to improve memory, focus, mental energy, and problem-solving skills. Below are several ingredients, many clinically tested, used in these products.
Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid nutrient found in the cerebral cortex. Studies show that phosphatidylserine supplementation can improve memory, especially delayed recall, by supporting acetylcholine release, a neurotransmitter responsible for memory.
Huperzine is an extract of the Huperzia Serrata plant. This ingredient has been shown to improve memory and learning from young students to seniors. Like phosphatidylserine, it improves memory function and slows cognitive decline by increasing levels of acetylcholine. Clinical trials indicate that Huperzine A has a beneficial effect on memory, cognitive function, and quality of life.
Acetyl L Carnitine
Acetyl L Carnitine is an amino acid that also helps the brain produce more acetylcholine by enhancing brain energy metabolism. Studies suggest this ingredient may be beneficial for Alzheimer’s patients with memory problems.
Bacopa is a herb used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine has been shown in numerous clinical studies to enhance memory and reduce stress. It works to balance neurotransmitters, boost cerebral blood flow and has antioxidant properties to address oxidative stress.
Other Ingredients Frequently Used
Although the above ingredients are staples in the space, many of the components below are also used in memory/cognition products.
Ginko has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Ginkgo improves blood flow to the brain, has antioxidant properties, and may help ease other circulatory issues.
Asian (or Panax) Ginseng
An herb sometimes used in concert with Ginkgo Biloba to improve memory. The ingredient is also used to treat Alzheimer’s, although the scientific evidence of its efficacy is mixed.
Omega-3 Fatty Acid
In addition to their role in building cell membranes throughout the body and brain, Omega-3 Fatty Acids have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects promoting healthier cells and less deterioration of the brain. They are also linked to a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s.
DMAE is found in fish such as salmon, sardines, and anchovies. It is also produced in the body and may affect mood, enhance memory, and support brain function. DMAE may also play a role in the release of acetylcholine.
Taurine is an amino acid found naturally in fish, meat, and dairy products. It is also used extensively as a dietary supplement in energy drinks. When combined with caffeine, it is thought to improve mental acuity.
Glutamine is one of our favorite ingredients used in the dietary supplement space – it is also one of the most versatile amino acids. Bodybuilders and athletes have used L-Glutamine extensively to enhance athletic performance and aid in recovery. It is used in nootropics to boost memory and learning, focus, and stress relief.
Vitamin B6, B9, & B12
The B vitamins may not boost mental performance for healthy individuals; however, it may slow the decline in those with mild cognitive impairment. Further, studies show that Vitamin B12 deficiency is often linked to poor brain health in older patients.
Vitamin has been receiving a good deal of press lately for its potential to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. However, it should be noted that Vitamin E does not decrease the risk of developing the disease. Due to recent studies relative to the risks associated with high doses of Vitamin E, you should consult your medical professional before adding this to your supplement regimen.
Best Supplement Brands For Improving Memory
Nootropics are a large and growing segment of the nutritional supplement space, estimated to reach nearly $5 billion annually by 2025. In this segment, we will preview four brands that have garnered significant market share in the category. Ironically, several of these brands target a much younger demographic interested in improving memory, focus, and speeding mental response.
When choosing a nootropic or cognition product, be sure to do your due diligence. The product should be made in an FDA certified, cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices) facility. The best brands will also feature independent third-party testing for quality and purity, check for certifications such as NSF or NSF Safe for Sport, USP, Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG), or ConsumerLab. The best brands will feature all-natural ingredients and offer a Money-back guarantee, illustrating their confidence in the product’s performance. And, if you take prescription medications, be sure to check with your doctor as some nootropic ingredients may have potential interactions.
Several of the most popular nootropic brands are:
Prevagen by Quincy Biosciences is a dietary supplement designed to slow or prevent age-related memory loss. The primary ingredient is apoaequorin, a protein derived from jellyfish. The product has gained popularity and market share due to its massive television advertising campaigns. The advertising cites a single clinical study conducted by Quincy Biosciences that claims that Prevagen helps improve cognitive function and memory by replacing proteins in the brain lost during the aging process. In recent years, the brand has become infamous for its extensive legal issues related to false claims.GET THE BEST PRICE ON PREVAGEN
Owned by Synergy CHC Corporation, the CHC stands for Consumer Health Care. Focus Factor comes in five different formulations:
- Original Focus Factor, Nutrition for the Brain
- Extra Strength
- Brain & Vision
- Kids Chewables
- New F29 Focus Factor Energy Shots
Per their website, Focus Factor’s target market is the Professional, the Gamer, the Student, the Athlete, and Hero Woman.
The Supplement Facts panel for the Original formula is exhaustive, including a proprietary blend that features many of the ingredients discussed above, such as DMAE, L-Glutamine and L-Pyroglutamic acid, Bacopin, Fish Oil, Choline, Phosphatidylserine, N-acetyl Tyrosine, Vinpocetine, and Huperzine. Important note: The FDA has ruled that Vinpocetine is ineligible to be marketed as a dietary supplement under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
Like Quincy Biosciences, Synergy cites their clinical study, “a clinical study showed that adults who took original Focus Factor for six weeks improved their memory, concentration, and focus.”GET THE BEST PRICE ON FOCUS FACTOR
Onnit Alpha BRAIN
Alpha BRAIN from Onnit is another nootropic product targeted to the younger demographic, “We’re athletes, biohackers, professionals, retirees, parents, gamers, fighters, tradespeople, and forever students.” The product promises improved cognitive functions, including memory, mental speed, and focus.
Alpha Brain contains three proprietary, trademarked blends for Flow, Focus, and Fuel featuring many of the most popular cognition ingredients such as Theanine, Huperzine, Bacopa, Phosphatidylserine, Leucine, and Tyrosine.
In addition to Alpha Brain, Onnit markets an extensive line of supplements, nutrition/foods, fitness equipment, apparel, and books. The company is a digital powerhouse and built its reputation through social media.GET A FREE TRIAL OF ONNIT ALPHA BRAIN
Cognium from Natrol is unique as it features only one clinically supported ingredient, a Silk Protein Hydrolysate, from the threads of silkworm cocoons. The product now comes in three forms, Memory Regular, Memory Extra Strength, and Focus. Note: The Focus product does have an expanded ingredient list.
Cognimum Memory contains a 100 mg dose of the Silk Protein, taken twice daily. Extra Strength Cognium features the full 200 mg dosage used in the clinical trial. Both products promise statistically significant improvements in memory and recall in healthy adults, in as little as four weeks.”GET THE BEST PRICE ON COGNIUM
In Summary: How To Improve Memory
In researching this article, we stumbled upon the story of a ninety-six-year-old man, who, on admission to a nursing home, was interviewed by a social worker. She asked, “Did you have a happy childhood?” With a twinkle in his eye, he replied: “So far, so good!”
Improving memory, focus, mood, mental speed, and concentration is as important to Generation Z as to the Millennials and the Boomer. What really matters is attaining and preserving great memory and overall mental health for today and the future. We hope you find the protocols in this article helpful.