If you had to guess the top two contributors of memory loss in individuals, what would you say? Poor diet? Lack of exercise? Age? The correct answer might surprise you – it’s high blood pressure and stress. In fact, there is a direct connection between high blood pressure and cognitive impairment, as well as high stress levels and memory loss. But, don’t worry! If you have high blood pressure or are often stressed, there are very simple ways to reduce the impact on your own memory loss.
Remember back to your college days – did you ever experience a time when you were cramming for an upcoming exam and you struggled to focus? You were most likely stressed, and the stress you felt was inhibiting your mind’s ability to create long-term memories.
When we’re stressed, we have significantly more difficulty converting short-term memories to long-term memories (in other words, being able to remember things). According to Very Well Mind, “Stress can inhibit the way we form and retrieve memories and can affect how our memory works.” Stress can also interfere with our mind’s ability to form memories when it occurs prior to or during the time in which the memory is being formed.
According to a UK study of nearly 20,000 people, participants with “high diastolic blood pressure are more likely to suffer from cognitive impairment” (Medical Daily). The level of cognitive impairment varies, ranging from an individual’s ability to remember something, to learn a new task, to focus, or to make a simple decision for everyday life. High blood pressure can affect small arteries in the brain, weakening them and resulting in brain damage. While more research is needed to fully confirm the cause and effect relationship between high blood pressure and cognitive impairment, the evidence supports a direct correlation.
What Can You Do About It?
“It’s possible that by preventing or treating high blood pressure, we could potentially prevent cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to dementia,” said study author Dr. Georgios Tsivgoulis, MD (Medical Daily). Considering the connection between blood pressure issues and memory, it is critical to seek treatment for – or make changes to improve – high blood pressure through diet changes, increased exercise, pharmaceutical therapies, or some combination thereof.
To reduce the stress in your life, we recommend adding more self care to your daily routine. Activities, like going for a walk, doing yoga, enjoying a massage and even reading a book, can help improve stress levels.
One activity that can help reduce both – practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness training can significantly reduce two of the biggest risk factors associated with impaired memory: blood pressure and stress levels in hypertensive patients (Damian McNamara).
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One of the most common terms regarding the brain that tends to be misunderstood is neuroplasticity. The brain is an ever-changing organ made up of nerve cells and nerve fibers. It plays a vital role in each and every one of our daily functions – and this is where neuroplasticity comes in.
Neuroplasticity is defined as the ability of the brain to constantly evolve – to form and reorganize connections, especially in response to learning or experience, or following an injury. As the name alludes, neuroplasticity also refers to the brain’s ability to be continuously molded (like plastic) by behavior, environmental stimuli, thoughts and emotions throughout one’s life.
Neuroplasticity allows the brain to adapt and rewire itself as needed and as you grow from infancy to adulthood. The brain serves as your body’s processor – “it processes sensory and motor signals in parallel,” and it has numerous neural pathways that replicate one another’s function should error arise or should damage occur (Banks, 2016). With neuroplasticity, errors or damage can be corrected by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Our brains can be improved by employing healthy habits into our daily lives. Exercising your brain might seem intimidating, but “simply by cultivating healthy habits, we can change our brain for the better,” (Power of Positivity, 2019). Healthy brain habits include eating whole, healthy foods, staying properly hydrated, sleeping enough (and not too much!), physical activity, and exercising your brain. The best practices for exercising your brain include doing puzzles, drawing things straight from your memory (try your childhood home or your favorite meal!), and learning a new skill.
There are numerous ways you can exercise your brain to maximize its neuroplasticity. Staying diligent about your brain’s health is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For many years, the brain was believed to have fixed cognitive ability and intelligence, but fortunately, neuroscience research has shown that the brain can change, even in aging individuals, (Power of Positivity, 2019). So, go ahead and add another resolution to your 2020 list – to invest more in your brain’s health and harness the power of neuroplasticity.
Banks, D. (2016, April 12). What Is Brain Plasticity and Why Is It So Important?: SciTech Connect. Retrieved January 16, 2020, from http://scitechconnect.elsevier.com/what-is-brain-plasticity-why-so-important/
Michelon, P. (2018, April 9). Brain Plasticity: How learning changes your brain. Retrieved January 16, 2020, from https://sharpbrains.com/blog/2008/02/26/brain-plasticity-how-learning-changes-your-brain/
Power of Positivity. (2019, September 28). Researchers Explain 5 Habits That Can Damage Your Brain. Retrieved January 16, 2020, from https://www.powerofpositivity.com/habits-that-damage-brain/
Oftentimes, individuals use the term Alzheimer’s to refer to all dementia-related illnesses, when that is not correct. While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, it is not an umbrella term for all dementias. There are several different types of dementia, all with their own set of symptoms. We believe it’s important for everyone to not only understand that different types of dementias exist, but also the unique characteristics of each type and the signs that indicate their onset.
While there are over 400 different types of dementias, there are five that are considered the most common. Worldwide, around 50 million people have dementia, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year (World Health Organization). Here’s a list of the five most common types of dementia, along with their symptoms. If you recognize any of these symptoms in a loved one, this information can help you decide if you need to seek medical advice.
- Alzheimer’s Disease
Of the 50 million people that have dementia, 5.8 million of those individuals have the Alzheimer’s form of dementia. A few of the most common symptoms include memory loss, a change in disposition, difficulty completing what were once familiar tasks such as speaking or writing and confusing places and time. For more information about Alzheimer’s disease, click here.
- Vascular Dementia (a.k.a. Vascular Cognitive Impairment)
Estimated to account for close to 10% of dementia cases, vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia. This type of dementia often sets in after a stroke or atherosclerosis when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. While symptoms are very similar to Alzheimer’s, there are some clear differences between the two. The cause of vascular dementia is known to be from an acute, specific event as mentioned previously, while the cause of Alzheimer’s is less clear. With vascular dementia, there is a noticeable step-like decline in cognitive ability, while the decline with Alzheimer’s disease is typically a slight, downward slope over an extended period of time.
- Pick’s Disease (a.k.a. Frontotemporal Dementia)
This form of dementia can run in families and impacts the portions of the brain that control language and behavior (the front and side portions). Telltale symptoms of Pick’s disease include incorrect use of words and increased self-consciousness. Pick’s disease makes one feel extremely self-conscious and unable to act in a relaxed and natural way.
- Parkinson’s Dementia
Parkinson’s dementia is not the same as Parkinson’s disease. It is common for individuals suffering from Parkinson’s disease to develop Parkinson’s dementia, but not all do. The symptoms of Parkinson’s dementia are similar to Alzheimer’s, with one noticeable difference. While Alzheimer’s hinders memory and language, Parkinson’s affects the speed of cognitive function, slowing down one’s movements. Symptoms gradually worsen over years, with cognitive symptoms developing later than the physical signs of this dementia.
- Huntington’s Disease
Like Pick’s disease, Huntington’s disease is another form of dementia possessing genetic links. Unlike other forms of dementia, Huntington’s comes in two forms – one form impacts juveniles and the other affects adults in their 30s and 40s. The most common symptoms of Huntington’s disease include jerking, attention deficit, difficulty swallowing, and the loss of impulse control.
If you have noticed any of these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, it may be time to seek advice from a medical professional. If you have been diagnosed with a form of dementia, MapHabit™ can help you regain independence, reduce stress and enhance your quality of life. Sign up for our newsletter today!