As an aging boomer, I've begun to have those senior moments - standing in the kitchen with the refrigerator door open and my mind empty of all thought except the plaintive "Whaaaaa!" What am I doing here? Why can't I remember what I'm doing here? Am I diseased or just upper-middle-aged?
Dr. Gary Small, Director of the UCLA Center on Aging, has put together a no-bull book of helpful suggestions, tests, anecdotal patient histories, clinical study results, and a short but useful pharmacopoeia. Small deftly employs a combination of clear prose and good humor - Chapter Ten is titled “Don’t Forget the Last Nine Chapters” and one section has the blurb “It’s not the sixties - beware of free radicals” to waltz us through the possible culprits for memory loss and suggestions for how to keep the inevitable from happening too soon. Some of the common solutions are obviously going to be included - don’t drink or use drugs, get some exercise, eat a reasonable regimen. Lighter stronger people with active minds have a better chance of living longer.
But some drugs are better than others - the upside of having elevated cholesterol is that it allows you to take statins, which can lower your chances of getting Alzheimers (and that’s the big bad bugaboo we’re really talking about when we talk about memory loss and old age). Nicotine can even be helpful. By “using transdermal patches ...avoiding lung, mouth and throat exposure, short-term memory performance improves, especially in people with only mild memory loss.”
Dr. Small reminds us that “all that is natural is not necessarily safe” and that taking herbs like ginkgo biloba, which is sold in unregulated doses and formats, could lead to truly unwanted complications such as subdural hematoma - ouch! But as my mother-in-law told her doctor (I’m not making this up): “It must be helping me - I remembered how to say it!”
The book is full of puzzles and memory aids such as lists of random words - I can remember eight of the ten test words - elephant, pepper, arrow, stain, swamp, cigar, instructor, hammer - after three days. This may not mean anything to you, but it makes me feel like I’m still 80% here. Even the cover of the book is a memory aid - a list of Memory Strategies with Important Words Highlighted.
Small’s philosophy can be summed up nicely in this brief section:
“I am often asked at what age it becomes too late to change bad habits, start taking care of one’s body, and thereby help to protect one’s brain. Allow me to say it clear and loud: it is never too late. As soon as you start to change your lifestyle for the better, you’ll begin to repair yesterday’s damage.”
The Memory Bible reminds us that just reading about improvement is in itself an improvement. I fixated on the lists: “How Much Do Some Common Foods Spike Blood Sugar?” “The Top Antioxidant Fruits and Vegetables,” “Common Medicines That Can Impair Memory If Not Taken Wisely.” Simple, easy to grasp, easy to - dare I say it - remember!
Those of you who are worried about your memory - you know who you are - or who have a relative or friend who may be in the concern zone, ought to get this book and give it a read. As Small correctly points out, “Beginning a program to improve memory and slow down brain aging requires accepting that we need such a program. A better understanding of what actually happens to our memory abilities and our brains as we age will help us keep our brains at their peak performance."
And take Vitamin E!