Memory shapes our existence. Patients with loss of memory lose connections to themselves and with others. Memory research is one of the most exciting and flourishing area in modern medicine. The study on memory function includes the domain of molecular biology, pharmacology, neurology, psychiatry and anesthesia. Eric Kandel was awarded Nobel Prize in 2000 AD for discovering the central role of synapses (neural junctions) in memory processes. 

Memory can be a short term or long term that lasts seconds or weeks, months or even life time respectively. Looking at a telephone number and holding it in mind until dialing is a short term memory. Long term memory can be episodic for a particular time and place or semantic for a fact that has built up over the course of a person’s life. “Where did you go last night” relies on episodic memory, whereas a question “what kind of food do you prefer” relies on retrieval from semantic memory.     

Drugs & Memory:

Clinical reports by anesthesiologists identified the amnesic properties of different medications like nitrous oxide, diethyl ether, and benzodiazepines (diazepam). Other drugs that can impair memory function are anti-anxiety, antidepressants, antipsychotics, antiepileptic drugs and sedatives. Memory impairment in patients taking these drugs for anxieties, depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy and insomnia may endanger them and cause serious social and occupational difficulties by affecting quality of life (QOL).

Diseases & Memory

As the population ages, the incidence and prevalence of memory impairment will increase as a symptoms of various dementias. Several diseases are associated with cognitive deficit that affect the patient’s independence and quality of life. Some of the common diseases associated with memory dysfunction include depression, epilepsy, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, anxiety disorders, insomnia, diabetes and hormonal disorders. A cure for established disease is often challenging but there are measures to slow down the progression of disease process and memory dysfunction.

Memory Boosters:

Development of memory boosters is of great importance to an aging population. Several strategies for drug development in this area seem to be promising. The newer drugs are selectively involved in the molecular changes that occur in memory related synapses. Development of strategies for improving the delivery of drugs into the brain will further enhance the efficacy of these medicines.

A survey found that about 25% of adults over age 50 years take a supplement to improve their memory, attention and focus. Most of these supplements are available as over the counter (OTC) medicines or herbals and there is no regulation to rationalize their market. Most of these supplements are used as a combination of various ingredients and benefits of these are not validated by robust scientific studies.

Some of the following products have shown marginal to significant benefits in clinical studies to improve memory function.

1. Quercetin: It is found in vegetables and fruits. Quercetin is a flavonoid that has neuroprotective effects. The studies in animals and humans have shown its favorable effects on memory and cognition.        

2. Ashwagandha: The root extract of Ashwagandha is found effective in enhancing both immediate and general memory in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). It also improve executive function, attention and information processing speed.  

3. Blue Berry: Blue berries contain polyphenolic compounds, most prominently anthocyananins that has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Anthocyanins increases neuronal signaling in brain centers, mediates memory functions and mitigate neuronal degeneration. Daily consumption of blue berry juice has shown improved learning and words recall.

4. Brahmi: The extract of Brahmi has shown to enhance acquisition and retention of memory in randomized clinical studies.

5. Fenugreek seeds (Methi): A traditionally known medicinal plant widely distributed in India has shown anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, antidiabetic and hypolipidemic activities. It inhibits the activity of an enzyme acetylcholinesterese in the brain to improve memory in patients with Alzheimer disease. Fenugreek increased the learning and memory processes in experimental animals, and shown to be equieffective to the standard dose of piracetam (nootropic drug)   

6. Amla: Experimental studies have shown that Amla possesses memory enhancing, anti-oxidant and anticholinesterase activity. It may be useful for the treatment of cognitive dysfunction.

7. Ginkgo Biloba: It is commonly used in Europe for a type of dementia resulting from reduced blood flow to the brain. A couple of meta-analyses and clinical reviews show that Ginkgo biloba is quite useful for the treatment of dementia.

8. Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil): The studies have found an association with higher intake of fish and lower risk of cognitive decline. Studies have shown more benefits with consumption of fish than taking fish oil supplementations.

Other agents found to be useful for memory enhancement are ginseng, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin E.       

Other measures to help improve memory are as follows:

Cognitive stimulation: Cognitive stimulation therapy is a short term, evidence based intervention program for people with mild to moderate dementia. It stimulate people through a series of activities that help them continue to learn and stay socially engaged. Stimulating mental activities may include reading and discussing a current news article or remembering the names of actors and actresses from another era. Cognitive stimulation may include watching image details, matching cards, remembering list of words and poems etc. Cognitive stimulation has been shown to significantly improve quality of life, social interaction, communication, and cognitive abilities in people with dementis.    

Sleep: Thomas Aquinas wrote that “ sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep”. Good night sleep benefits mood, alertness, concentration and judgement. Sleep play a vital role in memory retention. Study published in PNAS 2018 suggest even a single night of sleep deprivation can cause deposition of beta-amyloid in brain to adversely effect mood, emotion, memory and learning process. Tips of getting a good night sleep include regular exercise, avoidance of stimulants like caffeine or alcohol during late afternoon or evening, follow regular schedule of going to bed and waking, avoid heavy meals at dinner and don’t use electronic gadgets right before going to bed.    

Yoga & Meditation: Regular practice of yoga improves memory, cognition and concentration by protecting mental health, reducing stress, balancing biochemicals in brain and providing neuroprotection. There are several scientific studies conforming the role of yoga in mental health and various cognitive disorders. It has become a part of adjunt therapy in patients with dementia and other neurological illnesses.

Meditation strenghthens the mind, prolongs the life of brain and enhances the memory function. It helps recall the forgotton events that remain untapped in subconcious memory store. Meditation stimulated memory regions in the brain both for short term (frontal lobe) and long term (hippocampus).        

Human memory is a complex process that modern science is trying to better understand. Just a simple act of writing with a pen and paper helps implant the memory into your brain. Repetition is another way that reinforces encoding beyond short term memory. Maintaining social connections, managing stress and performing challenging activities like solving puzzles or playing instruments and learning a new language help boost your memory.