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In a large room with natural lighting, a semi-circle of patients reclining in lazyboys, covered with red blankets. On the far right, a pracitioner bends over to set needles for a patient.

Community Acupuncture for Memory Loss

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

by Stef Cordes & Lisa Baird

Everyone loses their wallet from time to time, forgets a word, or locks their keys in the car. A decline of cognitive skills, including memory loss, is common as people get older. However, it can also be a symptom of serious disorders such as Alzheimer’s or depression.

We use many different acupuncture points to support memory, depending on how you describe the memory loss and what else is going on. Sometimes people will come in and request “those points you put in my head last time”. (One of Lisa’s teachers called these the “Four Points Make You Smarter”: four points forming a diamond at the top of the head.)

The impact of stress and anxiety on memory

We know that anxiety and stress not only affect us mentally, but can also have  profound effects on our physical body. Anxiety causes the release of hormones and brain chemicals that can affect our memory. Longterm exposure to high levels of glucocorticoids (cortisol is a glucocorticoid) has been associated with memory loss and a 14% smaller Hippocampus. The Hippocampus is a region of the brain thought to be one of the places where we store new memories about events. It is one of the first areas of the brain to show damage in Alzheimers. In other words, it looks as if stress may have a direct negative effect on a physical structure on the brain, making it harder for us to remember things.

Memory loss is also a common symptom of post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI). Acupuncture is an effective treatment for many PTSI symptoms, including a patchy memory.

Feeling stressed out can also prevent us from remembering things that occurred while we were in that state. Studies in rats have shown a decrease in most areas of spatial memory when put under stressful conditions, which may explain why some of us misplace our keys or phone more often when we are too busy.

Luckily, acupuncture often makes us feel calm and relaxed. This is in fact one of the few side effects of acupuncture, along with a better night’s sleep.

Memory and a good night’s sleep

The amount and quality of our sleep not only affects our attention (and how can we remember if we’re not paying attention?) but also our working memory which plays a large role in our decision making and behaviour. If we don’t get enough hours of sleep we are more likely to make decisions we regret later. And, like cognitive decline, insomnia also becomes increasingly common as we age. We believe that  helping with sleep is one of the many reasons why acupuncture works so well and we encourage people to have a good acunap in our chairs during their treatment whenever possible.

Memory and head trauma

Memory loss is common after concussion. You can find our post about acupuncture and post-concussion recovery here.

If you have any questions about how acupuncture can help you with your memory, please get in touch.

In a large room with natural lighting, a semi-circle of patients reclining in lazyboys, covered with red blankets. On the far right, a pracitioner bends over to set needles for a patient.

photo by Vanessa Tignanelli

Sources

Alhola, P, & Polo-Kantola, P (2007). Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 3(5), 553-567.

Conrad, C (2010). A critical review of chronic stress effects on spatial learning and memory. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 34(5), 742-755.

Lupien, S, Fiocco, A, Wan, N, Maheu, F, Lord, C, Schramek, T, & Tu, M (2005). Stress hormones and human memory function across the lifespan. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 30(3), 225-242.

Mah, L, Szabuniewicz, C, & Fiocco, A. (2016). Can anxiety damage the brain? Current Opionion in Psychiatry, 29(1), 56-63.

 

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GIA