Looking for a way to stay mentally sharp? Read an excerpt from The Neuroscience of Memory: Seven Skills to Optimize Your Brain Power, Improve Memory, and Stay Sharp at Any Age by Sherrie All, PhD. This book offers tools to optimize your brain and memory function. Want your own copy? In a WAM first, we’re offering a special giveaway!

The first 5 people to sign up 5 friends for the WAM Weekly will receive their own copy of The Neuroscience of Memory.

Instructions:

1. Have 5 friends sign-up HERE.
2. Email info@womensalzheimersmovement.org with the 5 names and email addresses.
3. Wait for WAM to announce the winners!

 

Read an excerpt from The Neuroscience of Memory below. 

 

Chapter 1 – The Gifts of Neuroscience

Maybe you’ve always had a terrible memory; maybe you haven’t. Maybe you recently sustained a concussion or just went through chemo. There is no faster way to become incredibly aware of memory glitches than to experience a period when your brain just doesn’t work like it used to. (Ahem, pregnancy and sleepless nights with a newborn anyone?) Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with MS or Parkinson’s disease or you got bit by that ill-fated tick and contracted Lyme disease. Now you are left wondering, What’s in store for me if I lose my memory skills? Maybe you’re feeling your old bones and noticing the changes that come naturally with age, but understandably this has you worried. Like many of the people who visit my office, you likely feel scared. At the very least, I’m sure it’s safe to say that you are not satisfied with your memory, and you are looking for solutions.

Why Do You Want to Improve Your Memory?

Take a moment to journal about why you picked up this book. This will help you acknowledge some of your fears and set the stage for addressing them as we work together.

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What did you put down? Do you want a better memory to show off or compete in memory competitions? I’m guessing probably not. I’ll bet you listed reasons related to wanting to be better at your job or a more attentive parent, grandparent, partner, or friend. You might also be fearing the dark cloud of dementia looming on the horizon and want to remain as independent and productive as long as possible. I’m betting that you want evidence-based strategies that will keep your brain strong and vibrant, not parlor tricks.

That’s what I want for you, and using a neuroscience approach is the best way to get you there. Advances in neuroscience over the last twenty years have revealed many surprises, leading us to reprioritize what we recommend for memory-enhancement strategies. This new science will help you focus your efforts in a way that will be most effective in helping you meet the “why” and intentions you listed above. Many adult brains are getting bigger throughout the life span. Did you know that? However, many are getting smaller. Which group will you be in?

Is It All in My Head?

Since I’m not your doctor, I have no way of knowing if your memory concerns are clinical concerns or not. It could very well be the case that something is wrong with your memory and your underlying brain. On the other hand, your brain may be just fine. Or, you may not be worried at all, and you picked up this book to just give yourself an edge. All great starting points.

If you are worried about your brain, the only real way to know if your struggles are normal or not is to get your brain checked out by a doctor. I’m a big advocate of getting all of that checked out, which typically involves consulting with a couple of different doctors. You’ll need your medical doctor to order blood tests and a brain scan. Some primary care physicians do this, but many will refer you to a neurologist. A neurologist can quickly screen for memory changes and will know whether your memory is okay or not, but in many cases, the neurologist’s test is not sensitive enough. The gold standard for a dementia diagnosis is formal neuropsychological testing by a clinical neuropsychologist, with insurance covering this service in most cases.

Neuropsychological testing is sort of like IQ testing but broader, testing all brain skills, including memory. You sit down with a trained professional for about three to six hours and work through a variety of tasks. Most are interactive or paper and pencil based. Some of the tests are on a computer, but be wary of offers to do the entire assessment on a computer as there can be serious validity issues with these types of tests.

I’m passionate about neuropsychological assessment, and not just because it’s my professional background and a foundational offering in my clinic. In almost every case, objective testing of your memory is the only way to really know if something is wrong or if you’re worried about it for no reason. It is a really good idea to have a professional weigh in on which cognitive skills you may be losing, how much your skills are or are not slipping, and what they think is the cause, because guess what? You can do something about it!

Maybe you already knew this or were hopeful, otherwise why would you be reading this book, right? My point is that a lot of people avoid testing out of the fear that it will provide useless knowledge: “Why bother knowing if I have a memory problem if I can’t do anything about it?” You can do something about it, and a formal assessment will give you an idea of what to do both in terms of how concerned you need to be or not and where to focus your efforts.

Collect your thoughts. Jot down some of your thoughts at this moment. List some of your fears. Do you want to see a doctor? What might you ask?

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The Delicate and Resilient Human Brain

It’s awe-inspiring that our brains work as well as they do given the number of things that can go wrong. Have you ever had that feeling of awe when you consider, How does this all come together and actually work? Merriam-Webster defines “awe” as “an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.” You may have felt this when you held a newborn baby or visited a national park. That’s how I feel about the brain. The very fact that this organ comes together in the first twenty-eight days after conception, has more cells at birth than it will ever have again, is almost fully formed by age twenty-five, and in most cases does this flawlessly is simply amazing and awe-inspiring.

A big reason why the brain is so awesome is because it is equally powerful and delicate, just like life itself. In light of the number of things that can go wrong with your brain, it is amazing how this three-pound mass of goo—so fragile it has to sit deep inside a dense skull, suspended in liquid so it doesn’t bruise itself—more often than not develops itself into a complicated, self-correcting supercomputer more powerful than any computer ever built or even imagined.

Your brain, made up of billions of cells and trillions of connections, is more sophisticated than an iPhone, and I know, that thing is amazing, right? These days I’m convinced my phone knows more about me than I do, but guess what? Your brain is smarter than that phone. Smartphones are sophisticated because of all the different networks they synthesize. Your brain synthesizes networks, too, except better than artificial intelligence.

Often, we take all of this power for granted, and then we get upset when our brains don’t work the way we want. We scratch our heads or call ourselves dumb when we are foggy the morning after a night of heavy drinking, taking a Benadryl, or not getting enough sleep. Add to that an underfunctioning heart, fluctuations in blood sugar from diabetes, or any other of a plethora of physical ailments that can leave you not feeling so sharp, and it is no wonder we worry about our memory.

Your brain is delicate because it depends on basically every organ system in your body to keep its cells alive and functioning properly. When something goes wrong in your body (heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, and so forth), it can dramatically impact your brain. Some physical issues are temporary, but others can be more permanent.

Collect your thoughts. Jot down some thoughts as you consider the brain as a delicate organ subject to lots of interference.

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Excerpted from The Neuroscience of Memory by Sherrie D. All, PhD, New Harbinger Publications, Inc. copyright © 2021.