Sometimes I find myself saying "Did I forget to tell you about this?" And I know it's entirely possible that I might have." But I also know I have a lot of company.

Maybe you, too, sometimes forget where you put the cell phone, whom you were going to email, or what your waiter's name is. Have you experienced this kind of memory loss? I'm sure you have. Occasional forgetfulness, for most of us, is merely a reflection of an overworked or overtired brain, or just an unfortunate result of normal aging.

Although scientific research tells us that a degree of age-related memory loss is to be expected (and may be unavoidable), it's important to understand that not all memory and cognitive thinking loss is the same. There are common misconceptions when it comes to brain power. Accumulating birthdays is only one part of the picture. Injury, disease, and lifestyle can all play a part in how well our brains function, in youth as well as our golden years.

In fact, harmless mental decline, while inevitable, can appear in middle age, but so can the onset of Alzheimer's in which the nerve cells in the brain's memory center have been destroyed. But let's keep in mind that Alzheimer's and other profound brain impairments are not "normal aging."

What's the difference? Is any of it reversible or preventable? Let's gain some understanding--and reassurance--about the brain's function and the aging process. And better yet, we'll look at what we can do to stay sharp and focused.

Some facts worth remembering
Dr. Sheldon Wolf, Clinical Professor of Neurology and Director of the Memory Disorders Clinical and Research Program at UCLA, states that "Alzheimer's Disease is like an approaching Tsunami. There are currently 6 million people with this disease in the United States. The cost to this country this year is close to 200 billion dollars. In 40 years it may approach 1 trillion dollars, or a tenth of the entire US economy! The cause of these ominous figures is the huge increase in the number of elderly, as the baby boomer generation ages. The main cause is getting old."

Wow. Those are huge numbers that describe a serious problem. But what do those stats mean for us as individuals? Is Dr. Wolf implying that Alzheimer's is an unavoidable result of aging? In a word, no.

Dr. Wolf is explaining that the disease's impact on us--both as a population and in financial terms--is growing because the effects of late-stage Alzheimer's are more obvious in an aging population. In other words, we don't necessarily have more Alzheimer's cases than we used to, but we do now tend to live longer--long enough for the most severe effects to show up.

What is Alzheimer's, and how does it compare to other brain conditions?
According to the National Institutes of Health, dementia is a term that may be used to describe loss of brain function in general. It can be associated with any number of conditions, and it comes in many forms. Some types of dementia, such as those that may accompany injury or be a side effect of long-term medical treatment, are temporary. On the other hand, "Alzheimer's disease" describes one specific form of dementia. Alzheimer's--which may affect memory as well as cognition and behavior--is a far-reaching loss of function that is not reversible but in fact gradually increases over time.

Dr. Wolf explains that "Alzheimer's is caused by malformed proteins which accumulate in the brain and destroy brain cells and synaptic connections. It is not a normal aspect of aging or the milder memory changes that often accompany getting older." He goes on to explain that Alzheimer's is characterized by a severely debilitating form of dementia that progresses until normal, independent daily life becomes impossible.

A surprising finding, Dr. Wolf states, is that "the onset of Alzheimer's is not in old age, but in middle age. The biochemical abnormalities that will result in Alzheimer's begin about 20 years before there are clinical signs of the disease. By the time memory loss is apparent, a large percentage of nerve cells in the brain's memory center have been destroyed. Alzheimer's disease begins usually in middle age; Alzheimer's dementia in older age."

What can you do today to minimize your risk?
In addition to age, family history and genetics can play a role in Alzheimer's-related dementia. But perhaps the most common causes of dementia in general are ones that are potentially controllable, those that are part of your present health snapshot today. For example, it's said that what is good for your heart benefits the brain. Therefore, keeping down blood pressure and cholesterol and preventing or effectively treating diabetes would be at the top of the heart health as well as the dementia prevention "to-do" lists. Also, high blood sugar and obesity can cause inflammation, which can have a negative impact on brain tissue.

That's just the tip of the prevention iceberg. The latest research shows that food, supplements, activities, and lifestyle changes can affect not only your overall health but also your brain power. Read up, and see what small steps you can take right now to protect your brain, your most powerful asset.

Author's Bio: 

Roberta Roberts Mittman, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac., M.S., is a nutritional and lifestyle consultant, holistic mindset mentor, and nationally board-certified acupuncturist. Using natural, drug-free techniques, Roberta opens the door to complete mind-body health. Roberta believes in empowering individuals to be their own best healers. Ready to take that step? Call 212-686-0939, or visit online at