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Inflammation in the elderly brain can impair memory

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A study recently published in the journal Biological Psychiatry found that inflammation in the elderly caused by infection can result in a decrease in cognitive function. Scientists have known for some time that even a mild cold or flu can trigger a dramatic decline in Alzheimer's patients. My own husband's dramatic 6-week decline followed a kidney stone, which resulted in his death.

In the study, researchers at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School in England administered a typhoid vaccine or salty water to 20 healthy participants. They used a PET scan to look at their brains before and after the shots, in order to measure the level of inflammation. The participants' spacial memory was also tested after they performed memory tasks.

The researchers found that after receiving the typhoid vaccine, glucose metabolism in the participants' brains was reduced in the brain's memory center. When the participants attempted the memory tasks, their performance suffered.

The researchers concluded that inflammation in the brain, following an infection, could impair our memory. Although the results of inflammation are unlikely to be long-lasting in the young and healthy, they could significantly affect cognition in the elderly.

Until we know more, here are some tips for keeping you and your loved one healthy:

  • Inoculate against flu, pneumonia and shingles
  • Boost immunity with zinc, vitamin D and vitamin C
  • Reduce systemic inflammation with a curcumin (turmeric extract) supplement
  • Use a humidifier to moisturize nasal passages and mucous membranes to help keep them healthy
  • Engage in gentle exercise to reduce inflammation
  • Keep hydrated by drinking at least 6-8 glasses of water each day

Reference:

Peripheral Inflammation Acutely Impairs Human Spatial Memory via Actions on Medial Temporal Lobe Glucose Metabolism, Neil A. Harrison, Biological Psychiatry, published 21 January 2014.

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