Our webinar with Dr. Bruce Price on July 27 sparked some interesting questions on brain health from our participants. Since Dr. Price wasn’t able to answer all of them during the webinar, we thought we’d tackle some common ones here. These answers come from Dr. Haythum Tayeb, a behavioral neurology and neuropsychiatry fellow in Dr. Price’s department of neurology at McLean Hospital.
Q. Once someone is already experiencing memory loss, is there anything that can stop or reverse the process?
A. It depends on the cause and pattern of memory dysfunction. There are different memory systems in the brain and these systems can be affected by a number of pathological processes. While some of these processes are completely reversible and others are definitely amenable to modification and improvement, and some are irreversible.
For example, attention and concentration problems are often felt to cause memory dysfunction, with or without genuine problems in the parts of the brain that store the memories. There are many reversible causes for attention difficulties, including anxiety, depression, medications, inadequate sleep, medical illness and others. Interventions to reverse negative effects of these factors on attention and memory can improve overall memory performance significantly.
Even in cases where there is a problem in the memory-storage system itself, the cause is not always irreversible. A medical and neurological evaluation is required to search for the treatable causes of amnesia, which include vascular, nutritional, infectious and endocrine, medical and inflammatory problems.
Furthermore, early cases of memory problems (amnestic mild cognitive impairment), do not always progress to Alzheimer’s disease, and sometimes actually reverse spontaneously. Alzheimer’s disease, while a common cause for memory problems, is certainly not the only one. In cases of probable Alzheimer’s disease, a multi-lateral effort to improve memory and functioning is often very helpful. Factors that can potentially help for variable periods of time include physical exercise, maintaining a reasonable degree of mental and social activities, having an adequate diet, treating depression, and making sure medical and sleep problems are treated appropriately. While there are medications that can temporarily improve symptoms, none are yet available for clinical use to delay, stop or reverse the process. A large area of research is however progressing promisingly in pursuit of this goal.