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Thursday, Apr 08th 2010
Untangle My Brain Please?
I have a dear friend who just turned 80. Remarkable in many ways, the thing that is most enviable to me is her astounding memory. It seems that as mine gets worse, hers remains the same. She remembers every name and detail of every movie she has ever seen and every book she has ever read. She remembers, with remarkable clarity, details of all the conversations we've ever had (long after I've forgotten them). I've often wondered what it is that makes her mind so sharp. One reason, I’m convinced, is that she has so many interests – she's always using her brain. It's always being challenged and stimulated. And the other reason, I suspect, is genetic (just like her lack of grey hair. Honest).
Oh, memory. It's something we're all afraid of losing (in fact, a poll by Research America shows that adults are more than twice as likely to fear losing their mental capacity as their physical capacity) and something we're always trying to hang onto or at least, improve. Think about it: exercise is said to boost memory, so we make sure we get plenty of it, both physically – at the gym perhaps - and mentally – by doing a crossword puzzle or playing scrabble. Stress can make remembering more difficult, so we try to eliminate it – or at least control it - as much as possible. Certain foods high in antioxidants, like broccoli, blueberries and spinach are said to promote healthy brain function, so we add them to our diets. We're mindful of other things and their connection to our brain like sleep, meditation and herbal supplements. And if we can’t change it, then at least we try to cope with a bad memory, by using tricks like leaving little post-its around the house, making lists or using Mnemonic techniques, like when we need to remember the order of the planets: My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nuts
Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune.
I just read about an interesting new study on memory. Scientists have found that some elderly brains are immune to memory loss. How? "Tangles" in the brain have been linked to memory loss, and some lucky people are actually immune to those tangles, resulting in super-sharp memories. Researches say that the accumulation of tangles is "a progressive phenomenon throughout the normal aging process." And while healthy people do develop some tangles, the most tangled of brains are linked to Alzheimer's disease.
This Matters> So, there it is. Now that they know that 80-year-olds who performed memory tasks at the level of 50-year-olds have less tangles, researchers now need to determine the role environment, lifestyle and genetics play in the immunity to tangle formation and subsequent memory loss.
And perhaps, one day, there will be a "no more tangles" pill/spray/cream to improve our memories. Now, wouldn't that be nice.
How do you keep your memory sharp? And what do you think has the biggest influence on your memory, genetics or lifestyle?