Forgetfulness is the epidemic of XXI century. Are memory-enhancing drugs the answer? Shortly before she turned 50, Suzanne Gaynor, Dr.P.H., noticed that her memory was slipping. It seemed she was constantly hunting for her eyeglasses. And more than once a coworker politely informed Dr. Gaynor, now 57 and an assistant professor of community and preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, that she'd asked the same question just a few minutes before. The lapses began to grow worse. "It got so bad that I'd find myself in the middle or a sentence and nave no idea what I was going to say next," Dr. Gaynor remembers. She became plagued by a gnawing fear that she was developing Alzheimer's disease. In spite of her demanding schedule, which entailed working long hours, commuting every month to Ann Arbor, MI, to finish up her doctorate in public health,and making time for her three children, Dr. Gaynor decided to enroll in a memory training class at Mount Sinai. "I need ed to be able to juggle all the pieces of my life, she says, "and if spending one evening a week for eight weeks could help me learn how, I thought it was well worth the time."
Dr. Gaynor underwent a comprehensive medical evaluation to rule out Alzheimer's as well as vascular disease and depression, all of which can affect memory (as can a history of alcohol abuse). After being given a clean bill of health, she attended her first class. "It was reassuring to sit in a room with an advertising executive, a journalist and a nurse, all obviously intelligent and successful people who were having the same problems I was," she says.
Dr. Gaynor and her classmates are hardly alone. Memory concerns have reached epic proportions in the U.S. The National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, is devoting more resources than ever before to studying the subject. Nearly every major pharmaceutical company has a memory drug in the works. Sales of ginkgo biloba, an herb that has been shown to stave off Alzheimer's disease and reduce forgetfulness, topped $100 million last year. And while there are no statistics for how many people are signing up for memory classes, Cynthia Green, Ph.D., who teaches the course Dr. Gaynor attended at Mount Sinai, says her phone has been ringing off the hook for about a year.
What's the driving force behind this memory mania? "As large numbers of baby boomers turn 50, they're becoming just as concerned about mental fitness as they were 10 or 15 years ago about physical fitness," says Dr. Green.
While many women like Dr. Gaynor secretly fear that age is wreaking havoc on their minds, or even worse that they are developing Alzheimer's, chances are neither is the case. Alzheimer's rarely affects people under 60. Yes, it is true that certain mental processes slow down as we grow older, and there is increasing evidence of a connection between memory trouble and the waning estrogen levels associated with menopause. But research suggests that something else is behind the kinds of memory problems
Dr. Gaynor and millions of other midlife women experience on a daily basis. It's called lifestyle. In other words, long, stressful days, demanding jobs and family lives, together with more messages from more sources (TV, the Internet, cell phones, E-mail, faxes) than we can ever hope to absorb, make our lives not only physically exhausting but also mentally draining. The bottom line: Stress, information overload and lack of sleep all take a toll on our memory.
In recent years researchers have documented that at least two interrelated aspects of memory seem to erode with age more quickly than others: short-term memory and working memory. Short-term memory involves taking in new information and holding it for up to 20 seconds. Working memory, which lets our brains juggle several thoughts at once, may also decline. A recent study by Patricia Tun, Ph.D., associate director of the memory and cognition laboratory at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA, found that people over age 65 have greater difficulty memorizing sentences while listening to distracting sounds than younger people do.Still, most experts agree that for the majority of women, the potential decline of these types of memory isn't enough to account for all those misplaced car keys, burnt spaghetti sauces and forgotten names. The real culprit is the head on collision of biology and lifestyle.
Just as certain parts of your brain are slowing down a little, you're being overloaded with career and personal responsibilities, says Robin West, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. As women enter their 40s, the pressure of balancing career and caring for children and aging parents can be enormous, says Dr. West. Add stress and lack of sleep to the mix, and it's no wonder so many of us feel that we're literally losing our minds.
Stress affects memory in a multitude of ways. It can lessen your ability to concentrate, which in turn makes it more difficult to register and store information. What's more, a recent study at McGill University in Montreal found that having chronically high levels of the stress hormone Cortisol can shrink the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in memory.
Stress can also disrupt sleep, and when we're tired we simply can't focus on things as well as we can when we're well rested. That can make it difficult to get information into our short-term storage sites. Several studies have shown that lack of sleep can damage memory in other ways too. "Sleep is thought to help us organize and store memories," says Barry Gordon, M.D., director of the memory clinic at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore. "If you don't sleep enough, it's almost as if the secretary inside your head is only working part-time."
Another factor: "We try to do too many things at once," says Irene Hulicka, Ph.D., a research professor of medicine at the State University of New York at Buffalo Medical School. "Most of us are managing information not only for ourselves, but also for the house, spouse, kids, parents and job." Dr. Hulicka says this often leads to distraction, which can affect what's known as "episodic" memory: We may be able to remember a piece of information, but have no recollection of the circumstances under which we learned it. "Busy midlifers may remember that a coworker told them a meeting had been canceled but have no memory of when, where or with whom the conversation took place," she explains.
MEDICATIONS & MEMORY LOSS
The following drugs have been associated with memory loss. If you're taking one and feel that it's making you forgetful, discuss it with your doctor. Lowering the dosage or switching to another product may solve the problem. Never stop taking a medication without your doctor's approval.
• Beta-blockers, used to treat high blood pressure and heart problems
• Tricyclic or anticholinergic antidepressants
• Benzodiazepines and related antianxiety and sleeping medications
THE ESTROGEN CONECTION
For most women, reducing family demands and hiring a fleet of assistants to provide additional brainpower is not an option. Wouldn't it be nice if there were a pill you could take instead? Some reports suggest a daily dose of estrogen could be the answer.
Some of the best evidence of estrogen's effects on memory comes from Barbara B. Sherwin, Ph.D., a professor of psy-chology and obstetrics and gynecology at McGill University in Montreal. She tested verbal memory in dozens of women who had low estrogen levels, either because they reached menopause naturally or had their ovaries removed. When these women were given estrogen replacement therapy, their verbal memory improved significantly. Other studies have suggested that hormone replacement therapy, which supplies estrogen as well as progestin, appears to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease in elderly women.
Still, Dr. Sherwin and other experts stop short of recommending that women take estrogen for memory problems. "Larger studies need to be done before we can say conclusively whether estrogen helps stave off Alzheimer's," she says.
And of course, the side effects of supplemental estrogen must also be taken into account. The most serious of these is an increased risk of breast cancer. Many women never experience any memory loss in connection with menopause, Dr. Sherwin explains, but someone with a strong family history of Alzheimer's disease might be willing to take on such a risk in exchange for some measure of protection against the devastating brain disorder.
It's also important to remember that the estrogen studies to date apply to postmenopausal women. And while there have been claims recently that the hormone can boost memory in younger women, these stand on much shakier scientific ground.
"I worry that women will start taking estrogen and neglect the other issues in their lives that are affecting their memory," says Dr. Green. "You can take any pill you want, but if you're not reducing stress, getting enough sleep and cutting down on needless distractions, you're going to continue to lower your memory potential."
The good news is that there's a lot we can do to improve memory. Give these tips a try and see if you don't feel sharper.
Alter your lifestyle. Breaking bad habits can help improve mental functioning, says Dr. Green. Make it your business to get at least eight hours of sleep a night. Incorporate meditation, yoga or aerobic exercise into your day to reduce stress (aim for at least 20 minutes three times a week). Also, set priorities for what you need to remember and use external aids—lists, calendars, assistants—for everything else.
Anti-Alzheimer's, Anti-Dementia Agents
Aricept (Generic Name: Donepezil) is an oral drug used for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. It belongs to the drug classification termed cholinesterase inhibitors which also include tacrine (Cognex).
Dimebolin (See:Dimebon, Latrepirdine)
Dimebolin has shown to inhibit brain cell death in clinical studies of Alzheimer's disease and Huntington's disease.
For this product we have only express delivery (USPS).
Memantine is the first in a novel class of Alzheimer's disease medications acting on the glutamatergic system by blocking NMDA glutamate receptors.
Consider Nootropic and smart drugs
Piracetam is nootropic agent, smart drug. An effect on metabolism has been shown in man indicating improved oxygen utilization. Nootropyl has a low toxicity and has no stimulating, sedative or neurovegitative activities.
Centrophenoxine is chemically different from the typical nootropics, but on the basis of pharmacological properties and therapeutic effects, is ranked in this group. It was discovered in 1959 in France and since then it proved to be an effective drug applied for prevention as well as treatment of brain disorders in both young and old people. The drug acts as an inhibitor of free radicals.
Pikamilon (also known under names: picamilone, pikamilone, picamilon) is an oral inhibitory neurotransmitter that is used to treat anxiety and depression. It contains the combination of GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid) and Niacin which have both nootropic effects to improve the cognition responses of the patients. It works by crossing the blood-brain barrier to activate the GABA receptors to produce anxiolytic response as well as to vasodilate the blood vessels thereby relieving the patient from headaches. The drug has low toxicity thus there are no known side effects that are attributed to taking the drug. However, it is still not advisable for pregnant women or children to take this drug. Picamilone is a combination of GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid) and Niacin (vitamin B3).
Vinpocetine (known in Europe under trade name Cavinton)
Vinpocetine basically is a anti-stroke remedy which is also useful for brain circulation, memory improvement, anticonvulsant, cognition enhancement, neuroprotection and hearing ability.
Vinpotropile is a combination of Vinpocetine (with cerebro protecting properties) and Piracetam (with nootropic properties). It is basically micro-circulation enhancer which improves oxygen supply to brain cells.
Caffeine enhances and regulates the processes of excitation in the cerebral cortex, it enhances the positive reflexes, and increases motor activity. Stimulatory effect leads to an increase in mental and physical performance, reduce fatigue and sleepiness.
People who regularly take ibuprofen, aspirin or other over-the-counter anti-inflammatories may reduce their risk of Alzheimer's.
Train your brain. Regular mental exercise is a proven way to sharpen your memory (and of course produces no side effects that you have to worry about). Just as you have to sweat physically to build muscle, you have to sweat mentally to build your brain.
A number of animal studies have suggested that taking on new intellectual challenges can actually cause brain cells to sprout additional extensions, or dendrites, helping cells communicate more quickly and efficiently with each other. Dr. Monjan stresses the importance of the word new. "If you've become very proficient at doing crossword puzzles, for example, then they're no longer stimulating; you're better off trying out a new card or computer game instead," he says.
Give yourself a break. "Plenty of 20-year- olds forget things all the time," says Dr. Green. "The difference is that they never think they have Alzheimer's." So next time you're on your way out the front door and can't remember where you put your car keys, relax, take a deep breath and shrug your shoulders. Then stay home and play Scrabble.
Based on “American Health for Women” materials.