Multitasking and stress to blame for many young people experiencing memory loss - what can we do about it?

Yahoo Lifestyle

Always forgetting your keys, ultra-dependent on your to-do list and reliant on pop-up phone alerts to make sure you get to meetings on time? You're not alone.

Memory problems are being reported increasingly by younger people - and it's modern lifestyles, stress and multitasking that are thought to be to blame.

New research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), has found that 14 per cent of people aged between 18 and 39 have experienced forgetfulness and problems recalling facts and names.

Study leader Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Centre said: "These findings reinforce the importance of educating young and middle-aged individuals to take greater responsibility for their health - including memory - by practising positive lifestyle behaviours earlier in life."

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With dementia a rising problem for older generations, the findings are worrying and make it clear that as well as trying to keep the rest of our bodies healthy, we need to pay attention to our brains.

There is currently no cure for dementia, or way of preventing it. And there is very little research into memory in people in their 20s and 30s. But there are some things we know can help.

Healthy living

Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer's Society explains: "Current research suggests the best way to reduce your risk of dementia is to eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, not smoke and get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly.

"We know that lifestyle factors play a large part in increasing your risk of developing dementia but studies into 'brain training' games and exercises have shown no noticeable benefit.

"A Mediterranean diet full of green leafy vegetables, oily fish, nuts and low in saturated fats is one of the healthiest eating regimes. The good news is you can even enjoy the odd glass of red wine!"

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On a day-to-day basis, Christina Merryfield, lead dietitian at Bupa Cromwell Hospital, advises the following to help maintain focus:

• Stay hydrated - Keep a large refillable water bottle on your desk and get into the routine of filling it up every morning and finishing it before you go home. Dehydration can affect your concentration and ability to work productively.

• Do not skip lunch - Adrenaline can sometimes mask hunger and your brain will miss out on the essential nutrients and glucose it needs to function for the rest of the afternoon. People who are not taking time to eat and hydrate are missing out on essential nutrients and the opportunity to re-energise.

• Base your lunch on the three basic food groups: One third starch (potato, rice, pasta etc) - aim for these to be wholegrain variety as they are digested more slowly making us feel full for longer. Over one-third should be vegetables or salad and the rest a low fat protein source. This will help maintain energy and concentration levels throughout the rest of the day.

Emotional wellbeing

Dr Yvonne McCulloch, Clinical Psychologist at the same hospital, tells us: “Both memory and concentration are significantly affected by stress, anxiety, depression and lack of sleep.

"This is thought to be because these feelings overload the attention and concentration capacity in the brain, making people less able to concentrate on the tasks before them and less likely to recall what they were doing later in the day.
“However, your memory and concentration can be improved.

"If people have memory and concentration problems and they are also stressed, anxious or depressed, they should focus on finding solutions to these problems first, and the concentration and memory problems will resolve as result. Cognitive behavioural therapy can be a useful way of managing stress and anxiety. Relaxation techniques, exercise and a healthy, balanced diet can also help improve memory and concentration.”

We asked burnout expert Jayne Morris for her top tips to switch off and boost cognitive function:

1. Don't sleep with your phone! One of the major causes of mental overload is mobile phones. Sleeping with a phone by your bed adds to mobile phone addiction, makes it very difficult to switch off when you most need to rest and seriously disturbs sleep. Get a glow in the dark, silent tick alarm clock for your bedroom and leave your phone downstairs.

2. Guided meditations that you can download from iTunes can be very helpful for shutting off mental chatter and relaxing the brain.

3. Take a martial arts class. It will help you work on coordination, focus and memory with the benefit of simultaneously de-stressing from every day multimedia overload.

4. Get creative - take time out each week to indulge your creativity through painting, making music, singing, dancing, playing or getting messy with clay. 

Being creative forces you to stay present in the moment and switch off about concerns about the past or future. Our conscious mind switches off allowing the sub-conscious mind to be highly productive.

5. Try taking a power nap after lunch - Studies show that a short 20 minute snooze can increase cognitive function by up to 40 per cent. Work, of course, might frown on you nodding off at your desk though!

It perhaps would have been easier to be told an hour of puzzles a day will help boost our memory but like so many other areas of our health, the best we can do is look after our whole self and it will look after us - by remembering that important meeting you were due at 10 minutes ago...

Bupa also has the BrainyApp mobile phone app that can help give you an idea of your brain health by answering a series of questions.

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