What causes memory loss? What can I do to improve memory?

If you have these questions, you are not alone. A study conducted by The Centers for Disease Control found that nearly 13 percent of people over the age of 60 have reported confusion or memory loss.

It’s no surprise, then, that many adults are proactive in seeking information about brain health.

Before we explain the true causes of memory loss, however, we must first debunk some of the most common myths that often arise during conversations about memory loss.

Myth 1: There is Nothing You Can Do to Prevent Memory Loss

Some people believe there is nothing they can do to prevent memory loss, but in reality there are many things you can do to keep your brain sharp. You can engage your brain with books, classes, puzzles and games. It also helps to sleep well, manage stress levels, meditate, exercise and eat a Mediterranean style diet.

Myth: Significant Memory Loss is a Natural Part of Aging

It’s normal to experience some memory loss as you get older, but it’s important to recognize the severity of the problem. It’s normal, for example, to forget where you put your keys or whether your locked the front door. With age, though, these “senior moments” could include misremembering an event from the past or forgetting the name of an acquaintance. This is called age-associated memory impairment. A more serious type of memory loss, called mild cognitive impairment, could include forgetting to go to appointments or having difficulty coming up with words. This level of memory loss is not a natural part of aging and should be discussed with a doctor.

Myth: Aluminum Causes Memory Loss

Aluminum has long been considered a culprit of memory loss dating back to the 1960s. For years, people have warned against drinking out of aluminum cans, cooking with aluminum pots and pans, or wearing anti-perspirant that contains aluminum. However, numerous studies have debunked the “aluminum hypothesis” in recent years. One study conducted in 2012, for example, found that aluminum did not alter the recognition memory of adult mice.

Myth: Aspartame Causes Memory Loss

Another common myth that has been debunked in recent years claims that aspartame causes memory loss. Aspartame, an artificial sweetener used in diet sodas, yogurts and other foods, has been falsely linked to many health issues over the years, including memory loss. The U.S. Food and Drug Agency approved aspartame for use in all foods and beverages in 1996, based on more than 100 laboratory and clinical studies. One study concluded that it “seems highly improbable that normal use (of aspartame) could produce neurologic or neuropsychologic deficits.”

The Real Cause of Memory Loss

Now that we have debunked some of the myths about memory loss, we will start to explore the real reason behind memory loss.

The human brain is the most complex organ in the body, with about 100 billion nerve cells firing and connecting to help your brain function throughout the day. Starting in early adulthood, though, our brains slowly start to deteriorate.

Dr. Alan Snow, a former Research Associate Professor of Pathology at University of Washington in Seattle, has spent nearly 30 years studying the two neurotoxic proteins that cause memory loss in the brain.

The first protein, beta-amyloid protein, can accumulate to form “plaques,” which cause a decline in hippocampus-dependent memory and cognition in the brain.

The second protein, called tau protein, causes “tangles” to accumulate inside neurons, causing them to die.

The more these “plaques and tangles” accumulate in your brain, Snow says, the worse your memory, focus, concentration and cognition will be. For more information about reducing these plaques and tangles, visit Percepta’s website, perceptabrain.com.