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November 29, 2022

Memory loss comes with aging, but there are ways to keep your mind sharp

A new study suggests that eating flavonols can slow cognitive decline. But there are many other actions that boost brain health

Adult Health Memory
Healthy brain diet Source/Image licensed from Ingram Image

It's possible to prevent memory loss by exercising your brain and taking care of your body. The latest research suggests eating flavonols can slow age-related cognitive decline.

Many people experience memory loss and difficulty focusing as they get older. 

The list of health conditions that can affect memory and other cognitive functions is a long one: Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's, stroke, depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and hearing loss. Smoking can impact it too. 

But there is good news. Scientists have spent years studying the malleability of the brain and the amount of control people have over their cognitive functioning as they age. And it's possible to improve your memory by exercising your brain and taking care of your body. 

Research has shown that when an injury or an illness causes the loss of function in one part of the brain, the organ compensates by increasing activity in other areas. New information and experiences are constantly increasing or decreasing the size of the brain's structures.

One recent study found that eating more flavonols – compounds found in many vegetables, fruits, wine and tea that have been shown to reduce inflammation – may slow down age-related memory loss.

The study, published in Neurology, found that the participants who ate the most flavonols experienced a slower cognitive decline than those who consumed the least – even after adjusting for other factors that can affect memory. 

One particular flavonol – kaempferol – appeared to have the biggest effect on cognitive decline. But another, isorhamnetin, had no impact. 

Flavonols, a type of flavanoid, have been found to protect cells, including neurons. They are also good sources of antioxidants, which help combat free radicals in the body. Good sources of flavonols include broccoli, blueberries, cauliflower, spinach, strawberries, onions, asparagus, nuts and tea. 

Still, the flavonols themselves may not be responsible for the slowed cognitive decline, Dr. David Katz, a nutrition specialist who was not involved with the study, told CNN. They may be an indication of a diet high in fruits and vegetables, which are known to benefit the body as a whole. 

"They may also be a marker of better overall diet quality, or even greater health consciousness," Katz said. "People who are more health conscious may do things to preserve their cognition, or maybe being more health conscious is a byproduct of better cognition."

Other studies have shown that avoiding processed meats that are high in nitrites, foods with added sugars, those high in carbohydrates, and alcohol also can improve memory and focus. One study of 18,080 people linked a diet high in fried foods to lower scores in learning and memory.

Eight ways to protect your memory

Besides maintaining a healthy diet, there are other simple ways that people can take to keep their memory sharp, scientists say. Here are some tips from Mayo Clinic, Healthline and the American Psychological Association:

• Stay physically active. Exercise increases blood flow to all parts of the body, including the brain.

• Challenge yourself with mentally-stimulating activities. Take a class, pick up a musical instrument or learn a new skill or language. Even doing a crossword puzzle every day can help keep your brain in shape.

• Stay connected to others. Depression and stress can contribute to memory loss, so maintaining relationships with family and friends is important, especially if you live alone.

• Get adequate sleep. The brain consolidates memories during sleep, so getting at least 7-9 hours every night is crucial for your brain health.

• Keep your home and office organized. This limits distractions and allows you to focus the most important task. That makes recalling information much easier.

• Practice yoga. Research suggests that 20 minutes of yoga can improve your speed and accuracy on memory tests – even more so than aerobic exercise.

• When learning new information, first repeat it by writing it down and saying it aloud. Then actively try to retrieve that information later without any cues. This process – known as repeat and retrieve – has been shown to help the learning process. Using mnemonic devices such as acronyms, abbreviations and rhymes can help you retain the information, too. 

• If you have a chronic condition that may affect your brain health, the best way to preserve your cognition is to keep your condition under control. Certain medications also can affect memory.

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