“Improving Your Memory” –– A Great Handbook for Those Concerned About Memory Changes (Book Review)

What do you get when two clinical social workers who work in a geriatric centre write a handbook on how to improve your memory skills? A fine little guide for helping older people who are concerned about the changes in their memory!

Janet Fogler and Lynn Stern team up in “Improving Your Memory: How to Remember What You’re Starting to Forget” (2014) in this fourth edition. Originally published in 1988, these social workers have created the book that I have been looking for. In this fourth edition, they have included the smartphone and other technologies that are helpful to us as we manage our daily tasks and are challenged by our aging minds and bodies.

The paperback (168 pages) is medium-sized and is packed with real-life stories and examples to help the reader understand the concepts. There are also quizzes throughout to help the reader apply the knowledge learned (to help one remember!). It is divided into four parts:

  1. How memory works
  2. How memory changes as we age
  3. Factors that affect memory
  4. Techniques for improving your memory

I cracked open the book and dived into section four, as I was eager to see what techniques the authors were recommending. They offered some great ideas, and even ones I had not heard of before. One of them had to do with switching your ring or watch to your other hand or wrist, as an indicator that you had something to remember. It is much like the classic “tying a string around your finger” trick. I found some of the mental exercises fun and a little tricky, and I enjoyed trying out some new skills to help me remember things. The one example for myself that comes to mind is when I am attending an appointment and I have to park in a large parkade. I will use an “active observation” technique so I won’t forget where I left the car!

The first three parts of the book are very easy to understand and come with an illustration of “A Model For How Memory Works.” For us visual learners, these kinds of diagrams are helpful. Encoding (getting something to stick) and retrieval (being able to recall something) can become a little more difficult as we get older, for a variety of reasons. The authors explain, in simple language, why these things happen and how we can try to combat them. Whether our forgetfulness is due to stress, grief, depression, poor concentration, medications, or illness, memory problems can cause added stressors. The authors give some good advice in the appendix on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias; “What is good for your heart is also good for your brain, so monitoring heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol is important” (page 142).

I was surprised to learn the book doesn’t talk about “mild cognitive impairment” and the prevalence rates of Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias. Knowing that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease increases with age is important to know, but not knowing the level of risk does not allay any fears or concerns one may have. (The World Health Organization estimates, of those 60 and over, 5 to 8 people per 100 will develop dementia.)

I also noticed the absence of the terms “mindfulness” and “meditation,” as those two terms are used quite often in most of the current brain health literature I have been reading. Fogler and Stern mention how alcohol can negatively affect your memory, but they omitted any mention of drugs. Interestingly the nutrition section has no reference to supplements. I also observed God, higher power, and spirituality are not discussed.

Overall, a highly recommended guide and workbook for those who want to learn about: how the brain stores and retrieves information (in our “working” and “long-term” memory); what happens to the aging brain; what may cause memory problems; and tips and techniques on how to maximize your chances of remembering things. I’ll leave you with these two tips: “Much of what is called ‘forgetting’ is a lack of paying attention” (p. 137); and “Study after study shows that increased fitness levels result in improvement on cognitive tests” (p. 64).

Angela G. Gentile, MSW, RSW
Author/Specialist in Aging

www.AngelaGGentile.com

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Memory Rescue by Dr. Daniel Amen (2017) – Book Review

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I am a geriatric mental health clinician, and frequently I am asked: “How can I improve my memory skills?” The usual recommendations from doctors are, “Exercise and learn new things.” I have been on a quest to find some other tips and tools that people can use to help improve or maintain their brain and memory functions as they age. This need has led me to try to find the perfect book to recommend to those who are looking for more information. “Memory Rescue” has some useful information but it’s not the book I was looking for.

I purchased a copy (Amazon) of psychiatrist Dr. Amen’s book “Memory Rescue: Supercharge your brain, reverse memory loss, and remember what matters most” which has a second subtitle, “The official program of the Amen Clinics.” The Amen Clinics are found all over the USA, and the services and programs offered there are to help people with various mental health and brain health concerns (such as memory loss, ADD, and traumatic brain injury).

This book starts out with 20 testimonials and reviews which is very impressive until I realized they were all from men. The male-dominated view about memory problems and the Amen Clinic program was very strong. The only female presence I felt was from Dr. Amen’s wife, Tana, which was very sparse. There were also a handful of case studies that were about females. As a woman reader and professional, I wish there had been a more balanced perspective.

The overall takeaway of this book, for me, was that this was a big advertisement for his Memory Rescue Program that he offers through his Amen Clinics and the MyBrainFitLife.com website. There were case examples of how his clinics help people, and there were lots of “SPECT” (single photon emission computed tomography) scan photos to “prove” it. Even after looking at numerous SPECT images, I still wasn’t 100% sure what I was looking for. I felt these images were a bit overkill.

Here in Canada, we don’t have access to Amen Clinics, and SPECT scans are reserved for those exceptional cases (which I am still not sure what those cases are.) We tend to favour CT, MRI and PET scans.

Ultimately I was looking for concrete tips on “how to improve memory skills” and “how to improve memory problems.” Amen’s program is intended to enhance your mood and memory skills using the BRIGHT MINDS risk factor approach, with each letter standing for a component of the “ultimate memory formula.” Blood Flow, Retirement and Aging, Inflammation, Genetics, Head Trauma, Toxins, Mental Health, Immunity/Infection Issues, Neurohormone Deficiencies, Diabesity, and Sleep Issues. There was quite a lot of repetition throughout the book, with the main recommendations being: Exercise, Nutrition, Nutraceuticals (and supplements).

On pages 28-30, you can take the “Amen Clinics’ Early Warning Signs Questionnaire.” Your score will provide you with a risk of “significant memory issues,” from low to high. Amen states, if you are at moderate to high risk, it is important to get a thorough medical evaluation.

This book brought up some new terms and concerns. Those including my need for nutraceuticals (which Amen sells on his BrainMD website), getting tested for the APOE gene (related to Alzheimer’s disease), an integrative medicine doctor (but doesn’t say where I can find one). He was heavy on the recommendation of Gingko Biloba (a natural supplement that has limited research evidence to help prevent memory problems, see GEM study). He was anti-marijuana use and wasn’t that clear on what the recommendation was for alcohol use (was it 2-4 servings a week or only 2?).  He suggests coconut oil is good for our brains, but I have read that it is not good for our bodies. There is a lot of reference to the Memory Rescue Diet, but it is not discussed until chapter 16. There are a lot of references to the Bible, which surprised me. He also suggested that “praying to release your worries and to rejoice over the good things around you can help reduce your risk of mental health problems” (p. 337).

Ultimately, as I mentioned earlier, I was looking for specific tips and techniques to help people improve their memory skills. The most helpful part of the book in this regard is found in Chapter 17 “Sharpen Your Memory––Brain Workouts for a Richer Life.” He provides a lot of suggestions of what activities can help strengthen the different areas of the brain such as playing Scrabble, completing crossword puzzles, and learning to play a new musical instrument. He suggests engaging in “map reading” without a GPS device. He’s a big fan of table tennis and other coordination activities, such as dancing, yoga, and tai chi. He says we should travel to new and interesting places and develop relationships with smart people. Music, especially classical, can enhance memory and cognitive function. Surprisingly, I didn’t find the instruction to “pay attention” to what we are doing, which I believe is an essential tip for being able to remember things in the first place. He doesn’t speak to word-finding difficulties, either, which is one thing a lot of older folks are initially concerned about.

The book is well-referenced, and he claims to walk the talk. The index is sub-par, and it could have been enhanced to make finding things a lot easier to find. Some of the reviews online of Amen Clinics state it is a very costly program. There is no mention of costs, but there is mention that the process of improving cognition or mental health often takes months. It’s assumed the program costs thousands of dollars. The MyBrainFitLife.com online program also has a cost, a yearly fee of USD 99. There are some free Brain Assessments (which I completed) which can help one decide on the level of risk one is at. If someone already has memory impairment, a caregiver or loved one will need to read this book as it tends to have some jargon and technical language, and there is lots to read and learn about.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Amen Clinic Memory Rescue Program. For specific information on brain health and tips for improving memory skills, Chapter 17 is where you want to start. If you believe in God or a higher power, this will also confirm your faith in how prayer and scripture can support your mental health. The book is somewhat repetitive, however, it drives home the main message––that having a healthy body means better chances for a healthy brain.

I’ll leave you with this: Amen provides hope––“Yet new research suggests that a ‘memory rescue’ program, like the one presented in this book, can dramatically improve memory and can prevent and sometimes even reverse some forms of dementia. Given how most doctors approach this issue, however, you cannot count on traditional medicine to rescue your memory.” (p. 4).

Angela G. Gentile, MSW, RSW (Specialist in Aging)

 

 

Ways to Improve Your Memory Skills Podcast Interview

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I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Kathe Kline in March 2017 for the Rock Your Retirement Show and it went live on 23 Oct 2017. Have a listen to my 30-minute audio only podcast (it’s like a radio show) to hear me talk about various topics including tips on how to improve memory skills. You can play it off your device, or download and listen to it later. There is a freebie on this as well, you just have to sign up to get a copy of it (see link below).

Link to the interview – Ways to Improve Memory Skills

Here are links to the show in popular smartphone apps:

iTunes

Stitcher

iHeartRadio

I have also provided a Freebie for the listeners – Five Strategies to Help Improve Memory Skills.

After you’ve had a listen, please feel free to comment on the Rock Your Retirement Show interview link page (see link above), or down below, here. Or just send me a personal note.

About Rock Your Retirement and Kathe Kline.

Rock on!

Angela G. Gentile

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Angela G. Gentile  MSW, RSW is a clinical social worker and author of the book, “Caring for a Husband with Dementia: The Ultimate Survival Guide”, “A Book About Burnout: One Social Worker’s Tale of Survival” and the “Dementia Caregiver Solutions” app for iPhone and iPad. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba with her husband and has two adult children. She is creator of the Facebook communities – “Aging Well for Women” as well as “God, Cancer and Me.” For more information, visit: www.AngelaGGentile.com

 

 

 

Aging Specialist Offering Two New Courses This Spring (Winnipeg)

7fd3c75caf166af80aef7cb58709152dWinnipeg, Manitoba – There are two new courses being offered by Angela Gentile, a registered clinical social worker. Angela has a Master’s degree in Social Work and a graduate specialization in aging. She has worked with many older adults and their families and she has written two books and an app. She is passionate about helping people and exploring what it means to age well. Attend these informative and interactive sessions and get Angela’s professional advice. Come away feeling confident and empowered.

10 Tips for Graceful Aging

Learn what you can do to help yourself thrive in your middle years and beyond. The dimensions of wellness will also be covered.

►Date and Time: Tuesday April 25, 2017; 7:00 – 9:00 pm.

►Location: St. James Civic Centre, 2055 Ness Avenue, Winnipeg Manitoba.

►Fee: $25.00

When a Loved One Has Memory Loss

Are you living with or do you know someone who has been experiencing memory loss and you’re not sure how to help? Get some information and tips on how to approach this sensitive and difficult topic.

►Date and Time: Thursday May 11, 2017;  7:00 – 9:00 pm.

►Location: St. James Civic Centre, 2055 Ness Avenue, Winnipeg Manitoba.

►Fee: $25.00

Registration Information:

Both courses are listed in the City of Winnipeg Leisure Guide, Spring/Summer 2017 pages 69 and 70. See page 4 of the guide for registration information which begins Wednesday March 15, 2017 at 8:00 am. It can be done online, by phone, or in-person. Limited spots available!

Contact Angela toll-free at: 1-(855) 974-4219 or online at www.AngelaGGentile.com for more information.

Memory and Aging Program™ is Motivating and Uplifting

 

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Creative Retirement Manitoba – Memory and Aging Program™

I first heard Dr. Ronak Patel, clinical neuropsychologist, speak about the Memory and Aging Program™ last fall here in Winnipeg. This is an evidence-based program that comes out of Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto, Ontario. Many of us fear developing dementia in our older years, and many of us start to get worried when we have memory problems. Now there is a program to help enhance memory skills that works. (It doesn’t prevent Alzheimer’s or related dementias, however.)

I met up with a friend, Sherry Cels, a retired social worker, who completed the Memory and Aging Program™. She says it is a very popular program, and there is a wait list for people who want to go. It’s very popular with those 60 and over who are experiencing memory problems.

For Sherry, at 70, she was worried about her own cognitive health and memory skills. One of her parents had Lewy Body dementia, and she was concerned she may have inherited the condition.

I asked her, if after taking the course, was she still worried about developing Lewy Body dementia and she replied,

“There is no predicting that. But for now, I believe my memory problems are very normal for my age group. Sharing with others in the class helped me see that.”

Not everyone has problems in this area, but she learned it is quite normal to experience changes and there are things that can be done to combat these memory problems. I asked her to tell me about the Memory and Aging Program™ she attended.

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The workshop was $150.00 and it is held at the classroom at 1075 Portage Avenue in Winnipeg (The Creative Retirement Manitoba office). Free parking is available. The building has an elevator, but unfortunately it isn’t reliable. Space is limited to 25 participants. They met once weekly for five sessions, of two-hours duration (1:30-3:30pm). She said everyone, except for one man, attended every session. No one stayed home!

They are given a 74-page participant workbook, “A Practical Guide to Managing your Memory: Memory and Aging Program™.” It has “Baycrest” on the cover, and it is authored by Dr. Angela K. Troyer and Dr. Susan Vandermorris. It’s unfortunate that the binding is already falling apart, but the content is very useful (it’s well-used!). This was the book that Dr. Patel used during the course. It includes worksheets and space for notes. Each participant had “at home” activities to complete between sessions.

The content includes three sections:

  1. The Science of Memory
  2. Memory Strategies
  3. Putting your Skills to Practice

The main focus of the course was on the Memory Strategies portion. The acronym SHARP is used, which stands for:

SHARP:

  • Seeing and Saying

  • Habits

  • Associations

  • Records

  • Practice Retrieval

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Sherry learned about associations, and how it can help her learn names. For example, she has a beautiful garden in her backyard. In order to remember the names of flowers, she makes an association with them. She doesn’t forget the name of the “climbing” Clematis anymore. She is able to remember her license plate by giving each letter a name of the people she knows or knew. I was impressed when she told me the names of the new neighbours, including their kids names, based on association!

She uses the same purse she’s had for years because it helps with remembering where everything is. This is an example of the the “Habit” strategy she learned about. This made me well aware of the fact that I need to decide what purse pocket to put my keys in because I can never remember which pocket I put my keys in! Sherry learned we can develop new habits to help us remember things more easily.

Sometimes habit can backfire though. We laughed as we could both relate to our forgetfulness in the shower. For example, we both use shampoo and conditioner. We sometimes forget if we’ve used the conditioner or not!

“Hmm, let me think? Does my hair feel like it was conditioned? Did I use conditioner?”

To help correct this memory issue, we are to pay attention to what we are doing, instead of doing activities on autopilot. At least if we put our seat belt on without thinking about it, we can easily check to make sure it’s fastened. This reminded me of the term “mindfulness” and how we can be more in tune with our actions if we pay more attention and be mindful of what we are doing.

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Deep breathing and visualization (such as meditation) is recommended for managing stress and promoting relaxation.

An important part of the program is keeping a log of your activities. The program recommends at least 100 minutes a week of physical activity (to get the blood flowing to the brain for good brain health) and cognitive activity which includes brain exercises and socializing with others. Good nutrition is also an important part of nurturing our bodies and brains for good brain health.  Canada’s Food Guide can also be helpful.

Sherry and I were also discussing the different ways we prefer to learn and remember things. I like to write things down, as doing this can help me remember. How many of us write our shopping list out, then can still remember the items on the list although we forgot the list at home? When receiving and retaining information, some of us need to see it, others need to hear it. Some of us may also say it out loud to ourselves to help remember. Others like to do or act it out. The four main learning styles are: Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic (movement) and Tactile (touch). Exploring what your preference is and implementing it can make a big difference in remembering.

The main takeaway for Sherry was the emphasis on lifestyle and memory strategies. She felt very uplifted. The group discussions among the participants were quite helpful. She says with the cocooning phase of a Winnipeg winter, she found her “memory slipping,” and this course has motivated her to make lifestyle changes, such as “more physical and cognitive activity.” Adding to this, several new strategies practiced in the five weeks of the course has resulted in an improved memory and more positive attitude. She would highly recommend it anyone 60 or older who is experiencing mild memory problems.

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Angela G. Gentile, MSW, RSW

http://www.AngelaGGentile.com

Senior Moments: Should I Be Worried?

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Although I don’t particularly like the term “senior moment,” most older people know what that means. When someone who is at middle age or beyond has difficulty remembering something such as, “Where did I put my reading glasses?” or “I can’t remember her name” he/she may find someone else responding in a joking fashion, “Are you having a ‘senior moment?'” The other person is replying with a joke about having a poor memory. I have heard people themselves make jokes about their own “senior moments” in hopes of making light of the situation. It’s true that as people age there are normally changes in memory and thinking skills. On one end of the spectrum there is normal aging that affects everyone. At the other end is dementia which is common but not normal.  In between is a condition known as mild cognitive impairment. I will touch on all three.

We all have memory lapses on occasion

It’s true we all have occasional lapses in our memory. I even see my teenage children doing it. I even remember walking into a room years ago, forgetting what I went in there for, having to go back to what I was doing in order to jog my memory. Little lapses in memory is common for everyone. We get distracted or side-tracked especially when it is something that is not really that significant. Forgetting names is a common occurrence for example.

I have been working with older adults for over 25 years now and I see all different types of memory and thinking problems. I also know many older people (including caregivers) who do not show any signs of cognitive (brain function) decline.

I often note increased anxiety in people who are struggling with the loss of cognitive abilities. It must be a scary feeling to know that they are losing their faculties.

One of the common fears people have is developing dementia. Declining memory skills are often one of the first signs of dementia. The good news is that memory problems do not always lead to dementia.

Normal aging, mild cognitive impairment and dementia

Slowed thinking and minor problems with remembering things is quite common and almost expected in our later years. There are some things we can do to help reduce our risks of further problems with our cognition such as exercising (to get the blood pumping to our organs including the brain) and doing brain exercises (such as crosswords and learning a new musical instrument). Normal aging causes us to slow down in more ways than one.

Sometimes our memory problems become more problematic and they are noticed by other people. If you are continuously forgetting someone’s name or miss appointments, this may start to interfere with your relationships and daily functioning. You may have to learn new ways of coping with the normal changes in your brain such as keeping lists handy and using your calendar more regularly. Memory and thinking problems that can be noticed by others but don’t really affect your day-to-day functioning is called Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).

By the way, it’s a good sign if a person is aware of or concerned about their changing memory skills as one of the skills lost in dementia is the ability to know they have problems with their memory. If you ask someone with dementia if he/she has memory problems, he/she will most likely say “No.” It’s true that long term memory may still be intact.  It’s the ability to remember recent events and learn new information that is lost.

In some cases your memory skills, thinking and cognitive functioning may be impaired to the point where you can no longer do things on your own. For example, you may need someone to give you your medication on a daily basis or else you will forget. Or you can no longer drive because your sense of direction is off. Dementia is a syndrome and can be found in a variety of conditions  that affect cognition (such as Alzheimer’s disease). In early stages of dementia you can  live on your own as long as you can enlist the support you need to keep yourself safe. Dementia can create a variety of problems. For example, sometimes people with dementia forget to eat, or think they have already eaten. In this case it’s important to have someone provide a reminder or stop by to ensure he/she eats. In the later stages of dementia, it is not possible to live alone.

Seek a memory assessment if you are concerned

If you are concerned about your memory skills or other brain-related functions (such as language, problem-solving or judgment skills), please speak to your doctor for a memory assessment. Let your doctor know if you are concerned your problems are beyond the changes seen in normal aging (such as slowed thinking, and the occasional difficulty remembering things). Only a skilled practitioner can diagnose and determine the difference between normal aging, mild cognitive impairment and dementia, and provide treatment and management solutions.

For more information, check out Aging, Memory Loss and Dementia: What’s the Difference? from the Alzheimer’s Association.

You may also like to check out Senior Moments Explained by Terry Hollenbeck, M.D.

 

Angela G. Gentile, MSW RSW

www.AngelaGGentile.com