When we think of memory loss, we often associate it with the onset of age-related diseases such as dementia or with trauma and head injuries, but memory loss can also sneak up gradually on people through the long-term usage of drugs.
This may not seem like a big issue, but memory loss is a much larger problem than most people assume. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), dementia is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide.
This impairment in cognitive functioning is commonly accompanied by deterioration in emotional control, social behavior, or motivation. To date, 50 million people are suffering from dementia around the world, and WHO estimates that nearly 10 million people are being diagnosed every year.
When mentioning drugs that cause memory loss, researchers don’t just mean recreational drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy, and cocaine which are known for causing memory lapses. They also include the overuse of drugs that we consider safe since they fall under the label of the medication. Broadly, drugs are defined as chemicals “that affect the living protoplasm” and according to researcher and former graduate student in the Sleep and Cognition Lab, UC- Lauren Whitehurst “Healthy individuals who use psycho stimulants for cognitive enhancement may incur unintended costs to cognitive processes that depend on good sleep,” An integral process that relies on sleep is memory.
The correlation between sleep and memory has been studied since at least the 19th Century and the research over the years suggests that memory consolidation takes place during sleep through the strengthening of the neural connections that form our memories. There are several reasons healthy individuals use medicinal drugs.
A major reason is the over-prescription of drugs by doctors who do not have the time to properly cater to all their patients along with the increasing advertisements by pharmaceutical companies.
While India has not yet reached America’s level when it comes to reliance on pills, this could get worse if people are not made aware of the side effects of pills. Some common medicinal pills that have an effect on memory in the long term are certain allergy drugs, muscle relaxants, narcotic painkillers, and antipsychotic drugs to name a few.
The growing trend of young people using medicinal drugs (without a doctor’s prescription) to enhance their cognitive functioning is another leading factor in this problem. A research by Whitehurst et al reveals that other than the first two hours from taking the drug, there was no performance difference between the placebo-consuming control group and the experimented group which took psychostimulants.
Furthermore, individuals in the experimented group had highly disturbed sleep which affected their memory consolidation process. According to their research, cognitive enhancing drugs do not improve cognition for a significant amount of time, and moreover, affect the individual’s memory instead.
In case you require medication that has been associated with increasing the chances of memory loss, please do not stop taking the medication without consulting your doctor. Adverse effects are primarily for those who take the medication when it is not required. Instead of discontinuing essential medication, you can adapt to a healthier lifestyle that safeguards against the probability of memory loss.
Exercise is one of the best ways to do this. According to a recent research (Hogan, Carstensen & Mata) 144 people aged 19 to 93 showed that a single bout of 15 minutes of moderate exercise or a stationary bike led to improved cognitive performance, including memory, across all ages. Better food habits such as eating less added sugar, drinking less alcohol, a nd cutting down on refined carbs are just some key methods to reduce the probability of memory loss.
Low Vitamin-D is also a factor for memory loss and is common for people who live in colder climates or have a dark skin tone. If you fall in either of these categories it is a good idea to get your vitamin D levels checked and take supplements if required. Meditation and other natural ways of reducing stress have also been shown to improve memory in individuals. Most important of all, don’t forget to sleep!