Is there a way to slow down memory loss?

While a certain amount of brain slowdown will happen as you get older, memory loss can still be reduced thanks to a combination of medications and lifestyle changes. Here’s how

Memory loss is big news right now. Every week it seems as if there’s a new product, pill or idea claiming to improve your memory, keep it in good shape or stop it from getting worse. So whether you want to know about specific drugs for people who are living with dementia, or you’re looking for ways to reduce your risks of memory problems, here’s five ways to help yourself.

Drugs and medication

A recent study investigating a potential cancer drug discovered that, although the drug had a disappointing effect on cancer cells, it had a very interesting side effect…it helped to protect memory.

The science: Researchers at Yale University discovered the drug could restore memory by blocking a process that breaks the nerve connections used to store memories in the brain. The drug, known as AZD05030, is produced by British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, however more trials are needed before it will be available to the public.

But: People already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s may get access to drugs known as cholinesterase inhibitors. The main ones are donepezil (known as Aricept), galantamine (known as Reminyl) and rivastigmine (known as Exelon).

Keep it simple: It’s not just fancy drugs that can help. A 2012 study from the University of Gothenburg found women aged 70 to 92 who took aspirin to protect against heart disease also found that it had a protective effect on their memory.

Ditch alcohol and cigarettes

Ok, so the occasional glass of wine won’t hurt too much, but regularly drinking over the daily limit (3-4 units for men, 2-3 units for women) isn’t just bad for your general health, it can also lead to an increased risk of memory loss. Not least because a specific type of dementia, called Korsakoff Syndrome, is directly linked to alcoholism. Smoking too can seriously increase your risk of dementia.

Did you know? A 2010 study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine found smoking 40 cigarettes a day could increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 157% and vascular dementia by 172%, compared to someone who didn’t smoke.

Eat healthily

A rich and varied diet containing plenty of fruit, vegetables, meat and vegetable proteins can help to keep you healthy, which in turn could reduce your risk of developing health conditions that might lead to memory loss.

Proof it works: A 2014 study from University of California Los Angeles gave people a set lifestyle plan to follow which involved them avoiding white carbs, gluten and processed foods. They were encouraged to increase their fish intake, and instructed to take the supplements melatonin, vitamin B-12, vitamin D-3 and fish oil. Everyone who had mild Alzheimer’s saw improvements in their memory.

For more information on how diet can slow down memory loss, click here.

Lead an active life

We’re not just talking about doing exercise, but also being involved in activities – think arts, crafts, and socialising as well as brisk walks and cycle rides.

What: Regular exercise (30 minutes a day, several times a week) improves memory, reasoning, judgment and thinking skills (cognitive function) for people with mild Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment.

Why it works: Activity is thought to help memory because it keeps blood flowing throughout the brain, increasing the chemicals that protect it. It also helps to counter the natural reduction in brain connections that happen as we get older.

Not sure what to try? How about resistance training or aerobics? A study by researchers in Canada in 2012 found both could improve memory in people who had mild memory loss.

As for other activities, getting involved with arts and crafts is a great way to boost mood and slow memory loss. In fact, a 2015 study from the Mayo Clinic found doing these types of activities can reduce the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment.

If you’re more of a wordsmith, dig out your newspaper daily crossword, or buy a book of crossword puzzles, as a 2009 study found doing them (or other activities such as card games and board games) could slow the onset of memory loss.

Get some sleep

A lack of sleep is a key cause of memory loss. Ensuring you get enough sleep, so that you feel calm and rested, is vital. For some people this may mean at least eight hours, if not more, while others can survive on less. You’ll know how much sleep you need to function and feel your best, so aim to get the right amount as often as possible.

Tip– you might not like it, but ditching the ultra-long lie-ins could help to reduce your risk of memory loss. In a 2013 study, researchers looked at 2,700 people aged in their sixties and seventies. Those who regularly slept in (sleeping for at least nine hours) were at a greater risk of memory problems.