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Why Do Therapies for Memory Work?

There are four main chemicals in the brain that stimulate cognition: Acetylcholine, Adrenaline, Dopamine, and Serotonin.

The best therapy for stimulating cognition is natural brain activity—meaning doing activities with your body or mind that specifically increase those chemicals. Acetylcholine and Adrenaline are the chemicals that help us pay attention, learn new information, and store it in our memories for future use. Dopamine and Adrenaline are the chemicals most responsible for coordination and balance, which prevent falls. Dopamine and Serotonin help us feel pleasure when we are around people and reinforce (or want to do again) activities that we find pleasurable and hopefully healthy.

The best therapy for cognition is physical exercise, particularly aerobic activity, because it stimulates Adrenaline, Dopamine, and does multiple other things to the brain chemically (including boosting endorphins, a chemical called BNP, which actually grows the physical size of the brain!). Boxing in particular likely stimulates Dopamine which is responsible for reaction time and motivation; however, boxing may not be an 100% aerobic activity, so heart rate must be monitored, and if it is below the threshold, other aerobic activities should be incorporated.

The next best therapy for cognition is social activity. This activates Serotonin and Dopamine to improve our sense of well-being, pleasure, and particularly with dopamine, our motivation, or “get-up-and-go,” and wanting to do it again, which often becomes a problem for people with frontal lobe forms of memory loss, parkinsonism, or in the late moderate to severe stages of Alzheimer’s.

Cognitive activities vary widely in the chemicals they stimulate, so I usually recommend choosing cognitive activities that stimulate a particular chemical or brain area that is lacking in other parts of your life. This is usually an individualized, or personalized decision for most people I see.

I have rarely seen natural activities that stimulate Acetylcholine. It is likely that some do, but researchers have not particularly found this out yet. That is why my first “non-natural” recommendation is an Acetylcholine-boosting pill or patch (donepezil pill or rivastigmine patch). It’s not really known how a medication like memantine (Namenda) works, other than it works with the brain’s receptors and slows down memory loss to a moderate degree.

Depending on the brain chemicals that I see individually depleted in some people, I may recommend an Adrenaline stimulator, a Dopamine stimulator, an all-in-one Adrenaline/Dopamine stimulator,

a Serotonin stimulator, or an all-in-one Adrenaline/Serotonin stimulator.

It is all a personalized plan depending on the brain patterns I recognize with each individual person. I usually reach for the Acetylcholine stimulator first because it is rare to naturally be able to stimulate this, it is essential

for most forms of learning, and it seems to be the first to deplete almost completely and permanently in Alzheimer’s. Then I discuss natural, personalized activities you can do to help form new brain connections and prevent progression of memory loss.

Please note that these chemicals naturally deplete as the day winds down. That is why some people with memory issues experience behavioral, emotional, or changes in alertness as the day winds down (known as “sundowning”).

And of course, getting restful sleep helps recharge all four of these chemicals so they are ready for your brain in the morning!

I would love to hear your comments or questions below:

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