Improving Your Memory

by on March 23, 2015

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“Memory is the mother of all wisdom.”
― AESCHYLUS

With advancing age, many adults worry not only about their health, but also about their memory. First, let us examine why we value our memory, and then look at some of the latest research in how to improve memory.

With the externalization of memory by cell phones, computers, digital photographs, books, and pencil and paper, one can wonder why we need our brains to remember anything at all. However, thousands of years ago the major way we passed along information was orally, which required focused attention and memory. Dating back 2500 years, the Iliad and the sequel, the Odyssey, were transmitted orally by the rhythm of the words. It is said that the Torah, or Five Books of Moses, was memorized by Moses, then taught to the leaders of the Hebrew people, and then passed on to the 1 million or so who left Egypt around 1500 BCE. The Torah chant or trope aided memorization, and may have even contributed to more precise interpretation. For 1000 years, not one word of Torah was recorded in the written word. The value of “knowing” the Torah in the mind was that it could be scanned quickly for reference and applied meaningfully to any life situation. Today, with the exception of some Torah and Talmudic scholars, few possess this skill. Although computers are useful memory tools, digitalized knowledge cannot be applied in situations requiring emotional awareness and response. For example, a musician who performs a piece from memory can evoke musical pathos or elation that extends beyond the printed notes.

There are scores of self-help books on improving memory. One that I recently enjoyed reading is Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by an investigative journalist, Joshua Foer. He states this about the process of improving his memory, “My experience has validated the old saw that practice makes perfect. But only if it’s the right kind of concentrated, self-conscious, deliberate practice.” The main technique he utilized was the “PAO system.” A specific person, action, or object is associated with a specific card in a deck, or a segment of poetry, or a number to be recalled. I won’t reveal the ending of the book, but the memory feat Joshua Foer was able to accomplish was quite extraordinary. Moreover, the tools he used can be learned by anyone.

There have been many medical studies to investigate memory loss and interventions to improve it. Despite early hopes that computerized brain games or taking gingko biloba could make a significant difference, follow up studies have not confirmed their long-term benefit. One novel medical study from UCLA (in the journal Aging, September 2014) showed actual Reversal of Cognitive Decline. In this study, 9 of 10 patients with early Alzheimer’s, or mild and subjective cognitive impairment improved within 3-6 months using a comprehensive program involving up to 36 interventions. The one patient who did not improve had advanced dementia. Patients who had quit their jobs because of poor memory were able to return to work. Notably absent from the regimen were prescription medicines. Although the program was personalized, here are some of the key components:

  1. Exercise 30-60 minutes, 4-6 times per week. (Exercise stimulates the growth of new neurons of the hippocampus, the memory center of the brain, and preserves existing neurons.)
  2. Eat a healthy diet. Eliminate simple carbohydrates, increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, and non-farmed fish.
  3. Reduce stress; meditate, practice yoga, or listen to music.
  4. Aim for 8 hours of sleep per night.
  5. Fast 12 hours per night including 3 hours prior to bedtime to reduce sugar and insulin levels. (The higher one’s glucose, the greater the risk for memory loss.)
  6. Supplements such as B12, Vitamin D, fish oil, and curcumin were individualized in this study.

Although none of the participants followed the protocol entirely, the results were still impressive. Dr. Dale Bredesen, the neurologist and author of the study, advises a full clinical trial to substantiate the findings.

I instruct my patients who have concerns about their memory to incorporate heart-healthy habits: “What is good for the heart is good for the brain.” Other measures that aid our memory that I have witnessed watching my 3-year-old granddaughters and 92- year-old mother include:

  1. Learn by song or rhyme. Think of the ABC song. Singing or chanting triggers additional nerve pathways to aid memorization and recall. Whenever I attend Shabbat services with my mother, chanting of a prayer aids her ability to remember it.
  2. When I observe my granddaughters learning a new word, they repeat the word out loud. When you meet a new person, try to state the name of the person 2-3 times to reinforce it in your memory bank.
  3. New experiences add links to memory circuitry. Socialize with others, take your children or grandchildren to the zoo, or travel to maximize the opportunity for memorable moments. Stay active.

In summary, keep yourself focused, exercise your mind, and practice a healthy lifestyle to stay sharp. Your personal memories are valuable because they define you. Protect them.

Jerry Saliman, MD is a volunteer internist at Samaritan House Medical Clinic in San Mateo. He retired from Kaiser South San Francisco after working there more than 30 years. While at Kaiser SSF, Dr. Saliman was also Chief of Patient Education. He received the 2012 “Lifetime Achievement Award” given by the Kaiser SSF Medical Staff.

Editing acknowledgement: Ellen Saliman

Neither the PJCC or our guest columnists provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please make your health care decisions in partnership with your health care provider

Breakthroughs In Molecular Imaging

by on March 5, 2015

The de la Zerda Group at the Stanford University School of Medicine is making strides in being able to idenify and characterize tumors in clinical settings. Adam de la Zerda
visited the PJCC to describe the revolutionary molecular imaging technique his team pioneered.

Adam was chosen as one of Forbes 30 Under 30 in Science in 2012 and 2014.

Functional Training: Taking Your Workouts To The Next Level

by on February 24, 2015

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By Chris Nash, PJCC Personal Trainer

As a fitness professional for more than 15 years, I’ve witnessed many changes in the fitness industry. It used to be that gyms were limited to traditional equipment, such as bench and leg presses, that worked just one or two muscles at a time.

But in recent years, a growing trend is functional training. This is a classification of exercise that involves training the body for activities we perform on a daily basis; movements that require all your muscles to work together as they do in real life.

Does this sound strange? Perhaps, but Steve Jobs always said “Think different” and that’s what the fitness industry is doing. Traditional weights and machines have been around for decades and continue to serve an important purpose. However, with the introduction of functional training, you can now work several muscle groups at one time. Not only do you enjoy a well-rounded workout, but this form of exercise also keeps you from plateauing.

TRX is a good example of functional training. When it was first introduced to the public ten years ago, TRX had a profound effect on the fitness industry. TRX, which was developed for Navy Seal Training, involves using a set of straps as your anchor point and leveraging your own body weight as a form of resistance. TRX has been very well received and as a result, has opened doors to even more creative methods of training, such as Battle Ropes, Kettlebells, and other fitness tools, all offered at the PJCC.

As a trainer, functional training has changed me for the better. Not a day goes by that I don’t discover a new benefit from the different tools that I use. Better yet, my clients are getting stronger, experiencing effective workouts, and seeing results faster.

If you’d like to try out TRX, Battle Ropes, Kettlebells, etc., call the PJCC’s Fitness Desk at 650.378.2703 or check out the Fitness Schedule of ongoing classes.

The Case for Camp — Why Kids Need It Now More Than Ever

by on February 19, 2015

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By Peg L. Smith

Change is a part of life. It is often directly related to survival and can enrich one’s life in ways unexpected. Childhood is in essence a time of profound change and development. It is exciting and disquieting at the same time. When it comes to our children, we need to be sure that change is made for the better.

We’ve been so concentrated on the brain, we forget about the rest of our bodies. This change in focus has lead to an obesity rate that is unacceptable. Our kids are not as healthy as the Continue reading

Video: How We Think About Israel

by on February 13, 2015

Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, spoke at the PJCC recently. He gave us some wonderful insight into the thinking of both Israeli and American Jews. He provided us with a new way for the Jewish Community to think and talk about Israel. Get ready to be inspired!

Optimism & Your Health

by on February 5, 2015

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During medical training at UCLA, I had the good fortune to learn from Norman Cousins, a Jewish writer, editor, and adjunct professor of medical humanities. Despite being misdiagnosed with tuberculosis at age 11, he set out as a boy to “discover exuberance.” He believed that positive emotions were the key to fighting illness, which he exemplified in the telling of his own battle with a severe form of arthritis. In the book Anatomy of An Illness, he describes his victory over a potentially life-threatening condition by taking mega doses of vitamin C, and watching Marx Brothers movies and TV sitcoms. He relates, “Laughter is a form of internal jogging. It moves your internal organs around. It enhances respiration. It is an ignitor of great expectations.” His underlying belief was that positive emotions induce favorable biochemical changes in the body so that healing is more likely to occur.

Proverbs 17:22 states, “A joyful heart makes for good health; despondency dries up the bones.” So clearly, a correlation of cheerfulness with health has been recognized for centuries, but what is the supporting evidence? Do optimistic people simply take care of themselves better than pessimistic people, does being in good health by itself lead to optimism, or are both choices correct? The results of The Women’s Health Initiative study of 100,000 postmenopausal women showed that cynicism and hostility were associated with a higher risk of heart disease and cancer, and optimism led to longer life. In a large meta-review of 83 studies published in the 2009 Annals of Behavioral Medicine, optimism was found to be a significant predictor of positive health outcomes ranging from heart disease and stroke, pregnancy, cancer, and stronger immunity – even against the common cold. Benefits also included lower rate of depression and better coping in times of stress. My conclusion from reviewing these medical studies is that optimism leads to healthy behavior and outcomes, but also practicing healthy habits, in turn, leads to greater optimism.

One has to be careful about overgeneralizing the impact of optimism on health. If a person gets sick with heart disease or cancer, does that mean the illness was that person’s fault? Don’t assume that the root of all illness is negative thinking, and that thinking positively will provide the cure. Our emotions are only one determinant of our overall health, and whatever side of the optimism/pessimism spectrum you are on, it’s important to make appropriate health-wise decisions. For example, I have known patients who were pessimistic about having a heart attack because a parent died at an early age. This fearful attitude resulted in a strong devotion to avoiding cholesterol and to exercising rigorously. Some optimists think they will never get sick, so they shun vaccinations or screening tests for cancer. Others have had the unfortunate circumstance to have suffered trauma or loss of a loved one or suffering from clinical depression, so telling them to simply be optimistic is inappropriate. So whatever your outlook on life, it’s important to understand your own situation.

Most of us are born with a predisposition to seeing the glass half full or half empty, but my observations from treating hundreds of patients as well as observing behavior of friends and family have led me to believe that our outlook on life can be changed significantly. Here are some recommendations worth practicing to enhance one’s mood and outlook:

  1.  Express gratitude.
  2. Show compassion.
  3.  Exercise regularly to increase the pleasure hormones in your brain. Do something you enjoy such as walking, running, biking, or rowing a kayak. If your spouse orders you, “Go take a hike,” you both will be in better moods when you reunite!
  4.  Be forgiving of yourself, and laugh at yourself if you had an embarrassing moment.
  5.  Be playful. If you have young grandchildren, this is easier.
  6. Like Norman Cousins, entertain yourself with a humorous movie or sitcom.
  7.  Indulge yourself in a good novel, and share your insights in a book group or with friends.
  8. Play a musical instrument or sing, or attend a fine concert.
  9.  Enjoy a friendly game of bridge, scrabble, or poker with friends. Just don’t lose!
  10. Go to a play, especially a comedy.
  11. Volunteer. If you don’t already volunteer somewhere, you will be amazed what this does for your mood.
  12.  Eat a healthy diet and don’t drink in excess. (When alcohol wears off, it can act as a depressant.)
  13.  Surround yourself with supportive positive people.
  14. Pray. The mind-body connection is promoted by praying, helping to relieve stress and worry and indirectly improving your emotional and physical condition.

Conclusion
Whether you like it or not, our emotions affect our physical health. You do have some control over your life, and it’s never too late to practice behaviors that will help you see the glass at least half full. Oprah Winfrey, in her recent memoir What I Know for Sure, states, I continued to believe that no matter how hard the climb, there is always a way to let in a sliver of light to illuminate the path forward.

For more information about happiness and health, go to the Harvard School of Public Health.

Jerry Saliman, MD is a volunteer internist at Samaritan House Medical Clinic in San Mateo. He retired from Kaiser South San Francisco after working there more than 30 years. While at Kaiser SSF, Dr. Saliman was also Chief of Patient Education. He received the 2012 “Lifetime Achievement Award” given by the Kaiser SSF Medical Staff.

Editing acknowledgement: Ellen Saliman

Neither the PJCC or our guest columnists provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please make your health care decisions in partnership with your health care provider

Half My Size: A Weight Loss Journey

by on January 28, 2015

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By Randi  Reed, PJCC Assistant Camp Director

Everyone asks me what happened. How did I do it?

As a teenager at age 16 I weighed 350 lbs. If that sounds like it would be hard to overcome, it was.

I had PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome) and I knew if I kept going and growing the way I was, I would have died. With help from my doctor to get the PCOS and hormones under control I Continue reading

Out Of The Desert Innovation Blooms

by on January 21, 2015

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A desert state in a modern era, Israel has sparked the way as a world leader in resource allocation with pioneering innovations in solar energy and irrigation development. In fact, contemporary Israel is a major player on the world stage of technology, medicine, and engineering, boasting more scientists, technicians, and engineers per capita (140 per 10,000) than any other country in the world.

For a country so young, and so fraught with turmoil, an astonishing amount of life-enhancing Continue reading

Norovirus – The Winter Bug

by on January 16, 2015

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Thanksgiving weekend 2014 was a time to forget for our family. My wife and I planned for the arrival of our children, their spouses, and four grandchildren for months. One of my granddaughters would Facetime daily to see what toys she would play with when she would eventually visit. The night before Thanksgiving, one son-in-law became acutely ill with a GI bug, and he wasn’t able to go to Thanksgiving dinner. The day after Thanksgiving, two of my daughters became acutely ill. By Thanksgiving weekend, the illness had ravaged through our entire family except for my wife and one granddaughter who was protected through the magic Continue reading

Israel: Complex, Compelling, Clarified

by on January 13, 2015

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Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman tackles complex challenges facing the country

Whatever our personal views about Israel, it is likely we all agree that Israel is among the most complex and complicated nations in the world. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears intractable, with both sides refusing even to acknowledge a common narrative of the genesis of the conflict. This has raised significant moral questions (often by Israeli writers and thinkers) about the appropriateness of Israel’s military response.

There are also conflicts within Israeli society. The relationship between Ashkenazi (Jews of Central and Eastern European descent) and Shephardi (Jews of Spanish and Middle Eastern Continue reading