Can Brain Games And Supplements Boost Your Memory?

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We’ve all seen apps or online games that promise to improve brain age or memory. Similarly, ads for dietary supplements claiming to sharpen memory and thinking skills seem to be everywhere. While simple solutions for fighting mental aging are tempting, do any of them really work?

The value of memory training is widely debated by researchers, and study results are inconsistent. Some evidence shows brain exercises may help sharpen certain thinking skills, such as reaction time, not that they translate to activities of daily life, such as remembering people’s names or when to take medications.

“There are a wide variety of games claiming to improve memory, but most of them have no scientific validation,” says Elena Gupta, M.D., who specializes in geriatric medicine at Henry Ford Allegiance Health. “We also lack scientific evidence that we can improve core brain processes and haven’t identified what is key to make an intervention effective.”

The benefit of memory-boosting supplements is equally uncertain, since dietary supplements are not subject to approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is illegal to claim a supplement can prevent or cure disease. But it is legal to say a supplement is “clinically proven” to achieve certain results, such as improve memory, without providing evidence.

The National Institute on Aging advises caution on using any supplements or pills promising to improve memory. Without regulation, these could be harmful and might interfere with other medicines or treatments.

Unlike supplements, digital brain games can't hurt, especially if you enjoy the challenge, they just might not be doing you too much good for your memory.

“Brain games and memory training are not likely to harm you, except by promoting a sedentary lifestyle,” Dr. Gupta says. “If you want to improve your thinking and memory skills, it is better to go for a walk or do other physical activity to increase blood flow to the brain and body.”


Memory Boosting 101

If online games and supplements are not the answer, what can you do to help enhance your memory and cognitive functioning as you age? Dr. Gupta offers these general suggestions: 

  • Eat a nutritious diet and maintain a healthy weight. Prioritize fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins in your meals and snacks, and get your heart rate up for about 30 minutes a day, 5-7 days per week. Even low-impact exercises like walking make a difference. 
  • Take care of any existing health conditions. Follow your doctor's instructions and take your medications as directed. 
  • Don’t smoke or use other tobacco products. If you struggling to quit, look for resources or talk to your doctor. 
  • Limit or avoid alcoholic beverages and other drugs. Tolerance for alcohol decreases as you age, so people 65 and up (both men and women) should watch their intake and follow guidelines for drinking in moderation
  • Interact with other people. Maintaining social connections is critical, though it can be hard during the pandemic. Call your loved ones or find socially distanced solutions for seeing each other, like virtual hangouts or outdoor, masked-up get togethers.  
  • Learn a new language. Developing new skills like learning a new language can help keep your mind sharp. 
  • Express your creativity. Whether it's crafting or playing a musical instrument, getting creative stimulates brain activity, plus it can be fun and a great stress reliever.   

If you or someone you love is experiencing memory loss, talk with a health care provider about your concerns. Dr. Gupta says, “While there is no drug or treatment to prevent Alzheimer’s, there are prescription medications that can be effective in slowing disease progress when treated early.”

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To find a doctor or make an appointment at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936. If you're in the Jackson area or south central Michigan, call 1-888-862-DOCS.

 

Dr. Elena Gupta is board certified in geriatrics and internal medicine. She performs neurobehavioral and cognitive testing, evaluation and consultation related to dementia, memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease at Henry Ford Allegiance Health in Jackson.

 

Categories: FeelWell