Losing your memory can be a frightening prospect, especially if it strikes you seemingly out of nowhere. For example, "brain fog"—an inability to concentrate or remember certain things—has been in the news a lot of late as it is often linked to lingering symptoms of COVID-19. Long COVID is one of many possibilities for memory loss, along with diet and stress, or increased physical inflammation.
"There are a multitude of causes of memory loss, from unmanaged minds to trauma's to excessive stress to illnesses to mental fatigue to medications to brain injuries to neurological disorders to viruses like COVID that affect the brain—the list is endless," said neuroscientist and brain health expert Dr. Caroline Leaf. Endless as it may feel, there's a lot we can do to try to make it better. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
1 What is Memory Loss?
"Anything that disrupts the psychoneurobiological (mind-brain-body connection) network is going to disrupt memory," said Dr. Leaf.
To understand the cause of memory loss and how to manage it, we need to understand what memory is. We all have both wonderful and terrible memories. These are memories of moments that made us happy or sad, feel loved or feel angry. We experience events and circumstances all the time, and it is reacting to those moments days or even years later that are our memories. "All this is our mind-in-action and mind-in-action makes a product – a thought," said Dr. Leaf. A thought is a real physical thing made of proteins and chemicals, that occupies mental real estate in the brain.
We all want to build the kind of memory that will lead to success. "To do so, we need to think in such a way that will engage the neurons to grow little branches called dendrites, which hold the information," said Dr. Leaf. The stronger the dendrites get, the better our recall and application of the knowledge will be. This is not a quick fix.
2 Is Stress the #1 Cause of Memory Loss?
Almost everyone suffers from stress and anxiety during their lives, it doesn't matter what their profession is, or how stressful their life may seem to those looking on. However, the intensity of the stress can vary and it can have some effects on your body. It also depends on an individual how they manage stress and their life around it to either feel better or worse. "One of the effects that anxiety and stress has is loss of memory," said Pareen Sehat, a registered clinical counselor and certified mental health professional.
Your nervous system is directly affected when you suffer from stress or anxiety, and as a result it has an impact on learning ability and memory. "It all starts with stress response, where your brain reacts upon receiving any signals for threats," said Sehat. These threats can increase electrical activity in the brain and produce adrenaline and cortisol. Memory loss can result if that process occurs when fear or anxiety is beyond developmentally appropriate periods. "A study, Anxiety Disorder and Accompanying Subjective Memory Loss in the Elderly as a Predictor of Future Cognitive Decline, talks about how memory loss is linked with stress," said Sehat.
Stress also can impact inflammation, and that too can lead to memory loss. "Recent studies have discussed the link between chronic inflammation and memory loss, specifically related to Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Kara. They found that higher levels of inflammation were associated with cognitive decline. Having said that, keep in mind that memory loss can be related to more than just inflammation. "I always stress to people the importance of diet and stress reduction. If you are not eating a proper diet that contains nutrient-rich food, it can lead to inflammation which can in turn contribute to memory loss," said Dr. Kara. Ultimately, it's all connected.
We may think of diet only so far as weight or fitness, but you can use diet to improve memory and avoid brain fog in several ways. According to Dr. Kara, that includes avoiding foods that cause inflammation and adding more foods that reduce inflammation. Some foods that cause inflammation include refined or processed carbohydrates, sweeteners or other sugar additives, and general "junk" items such as candy or fried foods. On the other hand, some foods that reduce inflammation include leafy green vegetables, fatty fish, fruits, and olive oil. "I always suggest shopping organic or locally sourced to ensure that you are getting the most nutrient-dense foods and avoiding any unnecessary and/or harmful additives," said Dr. Kara.
4 Avoid Stress
If you do not take the proper measures, such as meditation or other stress reduction activities, the more at risk you are for inflammation and eventual cognitive issues. "It's important for people to look at the root cause of a symptom such as brain fog before deciding on a course of action to resolve it," said Dr. Kara. You can also focus on stress reduction. "Try setting aside 10 to 15 minutes each day to engage in activities such as deep breathing, stretching, and meditation," said Dr. Kara.
5 Work on the Mind-Body Connection
Our mind and brain and body health depend on healthy, strong developing thoughts with their embedded memories. "It is actually damaging to brain tissue if we don't think deeply and stop learning because the brain is designed to be grown through deliberate and intentional deep thinking," said Dr. Leaf.
5 Start Writing Things Down
In order to cope with this situation you need to start writing things down so you don't forget them. "You don't have to write down all events of life, but just the important things that you may want to remember at a later time," said Sehat. For example, any work deadlines, any appointments or meetings must be written down to avoid any inconvenience or missed connections. As social media is such a huge part of everyone's life now, perhaps keeping track of people and plans on social media is a great way to stay connected and also have a physical reminder of your memories!
6 Brain Fog And Long COVID
As the COVID-19 epidemic has endured, some have suffered what is known as Long COVID, or symptoms that endure for weeks or even months past initial diagnosis and illness. One of the more common symptoms is brain fog. In fact, one study found brain fog to be a complaint by 81% of participants with lasting health issues. "It is believed that this brain fog occurs following COVID-19 because of the increased inflammatory response in the body to fight the disease," said Dr. M. Kara of KaraMD. Inflammation, with or without a COVID-19 diagnosis, can contribute to brain fog and other cognitive disorders like Alzheimer's or dementia. Get vaccinated, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.