dr. Sanjay Gupta: Memory fades as we get older. But you don't have to | CNN (2023)

ThroughDR. Sanjay Gupta, chief correspondent of CNN

Updated at 7:37 p.m. EST, Friday January 8, 2021

dr. Sanjay Gupta: Memory fades as we get older. But you don't have to | CNN (2)

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Editor's note:CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is a practicing neurosurgeon and author of the new book,Stay Sharp: Build a better brain at any age.“

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Ten months after the pandemic, I turned 51 and did the math: I'm entering the last third of my life. I know it sounds bleak and I hope to have more time, but I often do these mental calculations because the clock of life inspires me to make the most of the years left. This constant ticking reminds me to fill the past few decades with invigorating experiences that I stow away in my inner black box—a delicious storehouse of memories that I can play over and over in my head like a favorite movie.

Now, for my plan to work, I need to invest in my brain so that it stays fit into old age, even when my body starts betraying me. Achieving this is within my reach, and it starts with a fundamental truth: Unlike every other organ in the body, our brains are not designed to atrophy, lose strength, become dull, or, worst of all, to become forgetful.

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: An empty room is set up for a COVID-19 patient at Boston Medical Center on April 15, 2020 in Boston. A camera is placed in the corner of the room so nurses and doctors can keep track and keep an eye on the patient in case they roll out of bed or damage their hoses and wires. BMC has been hit hard by the coronavirus and is reporting cases at the highest rate yet among major hospitals in the region, according to data compiled by the Globe. (Photo by Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images) Erin Clark/The Boston Globe/Getty Images The effects of Covid-19 include seizures and movement disorders -- even in some mild cases, the study finds

Memories make us feel alive, capable, and valuable. They help us feel comfortable in our surroundings, connect the past with the present and provide a framework for the future. The truth is that the past year has resulted in a decade of memories for me. Aside from continuing to operate in the hospital, I'm reporting 24 hours a day from the windowless basement of my home on all aspects of the new coronavirus - how it moves, the molecular keys it uses to enter and the damage it does once inside the cells. of the human body. And when it became clear that Covid-19 causes neurological deficits, from the minor ones like temporary loss of smell and brain fog to the more severe symptoms of a stroke, my worlds as a neurosurgeon and medical correspondent collided.

dr. Sanjay Gupta: Memory fades as we get older. But you don't have to | CNN (20)

"Don't buy into the misconception that brain decline is inevitable," writes Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

In the past year, I've seen a movement gain momentum like never before. A few months after this new virus was first identified, a global consortium of scientists was formed to study the relationship between Covid-19 and the brain. Among other things, these scientists are also exploring a provocative idea: the possibility that certain infections increase the risk of cognitive decline and even the most common and feared form of dementia, Alzheimer's disease. It's a frightening prospect that should also motivate us to redouble our efforts to control common risk factors for dementia and make our brains as resilient and sharp as possible. And the good news is that we have the tools to do just that.

In my role as a doctor and public educator, I've come to realize that people tend to have a limited idea of ​​what their brains are capable of as they age and what power they have to become better, faster, fitter and, yes, sharper. I think because the brain is surrounded by a hard shell of bone, many assume it's a black box that is only measured at its inputs and outputs. Immutable, impenetrable, indecipherable and incapable of being altered or improved. Until recently, we thought the brain was largely fixated on a certain number of brain cells, and over the years, neurons die, networks darken, and things like memory and processing speed suffer.

French sleep alone in bed; Shutterstock ID 1070512514; Work: Sleep Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock For the first time, scientists can see how the brain records our memories while we sleep

But what if I told you that most of what we believed about the brain at the beginning of this century has now been proven wrong or incomplete? And that memory loss and brain atrophy are not inevitable?

A lot has happened in brain medicine since I started in this field more than 20 years ago. Back then, the idea of ​​improving my own brain seemed like a misguided pursuit. Most 34- to 75-year-olds understand the vital importance of brain health, but they also have no idea how to make their brain healthier, or realize that it is possible. They believe their destiny is built into their DNA and nothing can be done to change that. You'd have a hard time accepting what numerous studies have shown: that the brain simply prefers a moving body, and that it doesn't take much to see tremendous benefits. You'd think I'd be polyanesin if they suggested that just 2 minutes of activity every hour can improve brain health more than anything else they're doing right now. Your whole way of thinking would change. Exercise would not necessarily be viewed as a cure, inactivity rather than disease. just move Every time you want to sit down, ask yourself: Can I stand up?

NOTE: PHOTO MAY ONLY BE RELEASED IN CONNECTION WITH THE NILSSON LENNART AWARD (Photo credit must be DAVID BARLOW/AFP/Getty Images) STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN: (ARCHIVE) Undated file photo showing the skull and brain using the double exposure aid. The photograph was taken by British photographer and biologist David Barlow, who was announced on November 10, 2003 as the winner of the 2003 Lennart Nilsson Prize for Scientific Photography. Barlow is cited for "combining science and animation to clarify the workings of life". Barlow works at the University of Southampton in England. He will receive his prize, which is worth 100,000 SEK (12,595 USD), on November 21 in Stockholm. Lennart Nilsson is a scientific photographer known for his early life photographs. AFP PHOTO / PRESSENS BILD / HO AFP/AFP/AFP/Getty Images Protect your brain from aging by keeping your heart healthy, says study

While we have lower rates of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer than we did a generation ago, the numbers for brain-related impairments are going in the opposite direction. Soon, a new case of dementia will be diagnosed every 4 seconds and it will be the most common neurodegenerative disease in the country. It's time to change this trend. For the past few years, I've traveled the world, relying on my neuroscientific background and reporter mentality to figure out how this can be done.

As things stand now, 47 million Americans have signs of preclinical Alzheimer's disease, which means their brains are showing signs of dementia, but they're feeling and thinking fine. It is like a storm that is approaching and still far away, and it takes decades before memory, thinking and behavior are affected. However, this pre-clinical period is a golden window in which we can significantly tweak our brains to improve its functionality, grow its neural networks, stimulate the growth of new neurons, and help prevent age-related brain diseases.

Dementia is not a normal part of aging and older people are not doomed to forget things. Typical age-related brain changes are not the same as disease-related changes. The former can be delayed and the latter avoided. According to the best available evidence, significant improvements in the brain can be achieved in as little as 12 weeks. There are habits you need to develop and create while learning what to avoid.

Photo illustration/thought Get off the couch! It's never too late to empower your brain with exercise

A quarter of Americans over the age of 50 take "brain-boosting" supplements, but after two years of research I could find little evidence that they improve memory, sharpen attention and focus, or prevent cognitive decline or depression, regardless of the manufacturer's complaint. It is true that absence of evidence does not necessarily mean evidence of absence. However, even with well-constructed experiments, the same result always came back. A large 2020 Harvard-led study further showed that multivitamin or mineral supplements do not improve overall health and any perceived benefits may be "in the mind." Vitamins are not a substitute for real food unless you are deficient in a specific nutrient, and some can even be harmful. I advise patients to follow SHARP's nutritional protocol: cut back on sugar; hydrate yourself (even if you're dehydrated, a few grams can impair cognition); Add more omega-3 fatty acids from foods like cold-water fish, nuts, and seeds; Reduce the portion; and plan ahead. I also tell them to spend their money on something proven to help their brain, like a comfortable pair of walking shoes or a new pillow to get a good night's sleep.

After years of losing sleep over my coverage of natural disasters and wars, I now prioritize sleep and sweat regularly because I know what science says. Restful sleep and exercise are antidotes to mental decline. They are peerless remedies that we cannot get anywhere else. Sleep erases memory, while physical activity pumps substances into the brain that act as fertilizers in brain cells for their growth and survival. This allows us to continuously learn new skills and explore new hobbies that are stimulating, stress-relieving and rewarding - all good things not to be missed.

Vital Signs Memory Focus Training Hershey, PA School C_00030212.jpg Keep your brain in the shape of an American master of memory

Surprisingly, recreational activities such as gardening, playing cards, attending cultural events, and using a computer do not protect against dementia as much as we thought. A 2020 study found no association between being active in recreational activities at age 56 and developing dementia over the next 18 years. And completing crossword puzzles might not keep your brain young either. Unfortunately, crossword puzzles only challenge one part of your brain, which is word search (aka word fluency). They can help you excel at it, but they won't necessarily keep your brain sharp in general.

A better strategy than playing mind-blowing games alone is to engage with others and work on your relationships. Another recent scientific discovery was that the strength of our relationships is far more important to our health - and life expectancy, or how long we live in good health - than previously thought. Instead of spending time passively using a computer screen to watch shows or surfing the web aimlessly, use that time in virtual chats with friends and family. As I like to say, connection to protection, even at physical distance. And if you can see people in person, focus on eye contact; It's more important than ever to relieve the stress of masked faces. As a loneliness researcherStephanie Cacioppo told meeyes also reflect more authentic emotions.

Putting it all together, one of the best things you can do for your brain is take a brisk walk with a close friend and discuss your problems.

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Sign up here to receiveThe results are with Dr. Sanjay Guptaevery Tuesday from the CNN Health Team.

These strategies may seem remarkably simple, and perhaps strange, but they work. As someone who has had a love affair with the brain since adolescence, I'll admit I'm biased, but I firmly believe that all paths to health and happiness begin in the brain. Your brain is the command center for you and your body, and it's possible to make it sharper than ever. Don't believe the misconception that brain decline is inevitable.

While many organs atrophy and shrink with age, the brain is different and it is within your power to remain cognitively intact as you age. I've seen this time and time again with patients I've treated and people I've met in my work as a journalist.

Like you, I will not forget the last year. The combination of a public health crisis and a tumultuous election has placed many limits on our mental well-being. However, at times like these, when fears and insecurities mount, I take comfort in knowing that there are things I can control. No one can predict the future, but each of us can do our part to plan for a long, mentally sharp, and resilient future.

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