C learing up explains Sherwin, “since estrogen increases
brain fog the amount of acetylcholine in areas of the
brain that affect memory function.”
In men, diminished testosterone levels
adversely affected memory and concentration,
and performance in spatial perception tasks.
Hormone replacement for either estrogen
Shedding or testosterone may help in some cases.
Sleep loss. “Most adults cannot function
light on “senior optimally with less than six hours of sleep regularly, and probably five hours is close to
moments” a lower limit for the longer term for the great
majority,” suggests Dr. Benjamin Rusak, vice-president, research, of the Canadian Sleep
Society and professor of psychology and
pharmacology at Dalhousie University in
Halifax, Nova Scotia. Insufficient sleep
means missing out on some sleep stages,
RUBBERBALL which are required to store or consolidate
newly acquired information, says Rusak.
Sleep loss can adversely affect people’s ability to do math, make a speech or drive a car.
By Angela Pirisi Naps help if they’re short ( 10 to 15 minutes) and not too late in the day, and if they’re
Ever get tongue-twisted trying to not intended to make up for zero sleep.
string a simple sentence together, Longer naps can backfire by causing “sleep
struggled to remember a song or inertia,” making sleepers foggy upon waking,
movie title or forgotten where Rusaksays.
you left your car keys? Brain fog, (i.e., whole-grain bread, fruits and vegeta- Medication. Sometimes a mental haze
a senior moment, fuzzy thinking—whatever bles) are healthiest. can be a side effect of medication. “A number
you call it, we’ve all experienced it. Aging and Eat something about 15 to 20 minutes be- of prescription medications may cause or
Alzheimer’s disease are often the first consid- fore a mental task, and top up with food exacerbate memory impairment, including
eration as possible causes for the mental dis- energy every three to four hours to keep blood traditional antipsychotic medications, some
connect, but there are many other reasons why sugar steady and your brain well fed. Parkinson’s disease medications and certain
our brains turn to mush at times, as well as Hormones. Hormone levels can affect anxiety medications,” says Robb Scherz, a
ways to circumvent or reduce those moments. memory and focus in men and women. Costco pharmacist in Ajax, Ontario.
Low blood sugar.“Glucose is the brain’s “Research has found that estrogen has Over-the-counter drugs that adversely
main source of fuel, and if blood sugar is numerous effects on brain structure and func- affect concentration and focus include sleep-low, brain stores will be low too,” explains tion,” says Dr. Barbara Sherwin, professor of ing pills, older antihistamines and anti-nau-
Dr. Carol Greenwood, a professor of nutri- psychology and obstetrics and gynecology sea meds.
tion at the University of Toronto and research at McGill University. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you
scientist at the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric For example, studies showed that women suspect a medication is causing problems. C
Care. Glucose is also necessary for the pro- performed better in verbal memory tests
duction of acetylcholine, an essential neuro- when their estrogen levels peaked in mid- Angela Pirisi is a Toronto-based writer
chemical for memory function. cycle, and better on visual-spatial challenges who regularly covers health and psychology
Carbohydrates are a glucose source, and when their estrogen levels sank during men- for a variety of publications.
while the brain doesn’t care whether it’s from struation. Research suggests that estrogen
a cookie or an apple, complex carbohydrates may even protect against Alzheimer’s,
Four ways to
Cut down on junk food. Science shows of acetylcholine and helps in its production.
that the term “fathead” can now be used liter- Choline sources include eggs, fish, legumes,
ally: University of Toronto research found that nuts and meats and vegetables. Aim for a daily
rats on a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet did intake of 550 mg (male) and 425 mg (female).
very poorly in learning and memory tests. Use it or lose it. Brain teasers and simply
Boost physical activity. Research suggests straying from your routine can help, suggests
that exercise can increase new brain cells and research by Duke University’s Dr. Lawrence
blood flow to the brain. Findings from an eight- Katz, a neuro-biologist and co-author of Keep
year U.S. study showed that walking 10 blocks Your Brain Alive (Workman, 1999). Try writ-
(approximately 1 kilometre) per day translated ing with the opposite hand. Eat with your eyes
There are some simple ways to remedy to a 13 per cent risk reduction in cognitive closed. Take a different route to work. Doing
those occasional brain blips and keep your decline among women over 65. something new or differently sparks new links
mind in shape. Get enough choline. Choline is a precursor between brain cells.—AP