A Trip Down Memory Lane with Constantine Lyketsos

Constantine LyketsosTake a trip down memory lane with Constantine Lyketsos, director of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, who recently spoke at the A Woman’s Journey conference about how memory changes as we age. Read about his talk, which included the relationship between diet and memory, how unnecessary medications affect memory, and best practices for promoting brain health.


What is the relationship between diet and memory?

Diet is closely related to obesity and being overweight, and being overweight is bad for the brain. Even if you are overweight and follow a good diet, it still has a negative impact on the brain.

Research shows that following a Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on the brain. This type of diet limits certain kinds of fats and carbs while focusing on fresh fruits and foods, olive oils, fish, etc.

Antioxidants are great for brain health. A few of my favorites include blueberries, dark chocolate and red wine! The best way to consume antioxidants is through your food. Many foods in Mediterranean diets include antioxidants.

Alcohol intake is related to memory, but it is not always about the alcohol’s direct effect on the brain. Injuries that affect memory can occur because of incidents that happen due to alcohol use or abuse. Certain kinds of alcohol, such as red wine, have other substances in them that—when taken in moderation—are healthy for the brain.

Are all medications necessary as we age? How do they affect memory?

My main suggestion is to adapt medication to your age group. What is right for you at age 50 may not be right at age 70. Here are some thoughts on medications for blood pressure cholesterol and bladder control.

Blood Pressure Medications

The general rule for blood pressure is that you want top number below 140 and the bottom number below 90. But what many do not know is that these numbers have been generated for people in their middle ages, so they don’t necessarily apply to people in their 70s, 80s and 90s.

The elasticity of blood vessels lessens as we get older, resulting in our bodies not doing as good of a job at pushing blood flow to the brain. Therefore, regarding blood pressure management in older people, the top number can be as high as 150 or 160. Therefore, older people may not need to be on medication to control blood pressure that would keep it in the 140 range.


Statins can take up to five or even 10 years to make a real difference in health. Some evidence shows that it is acceptable to have cholesterol in the blood as you get older, into your 70s and 80s. Therefore, it may not be necessary to take statins as you age, especially with the length of time it takes them to really help.

Bladder Control Medications

Many medicines that do a great job of addressing bladder control can badly affect memory. While this is generally ok for younger people and may not cause as much of an effect, people who are 80 and 90 years old have a harder time controlling the medications’ effects on their memory.

Is there one exercise or activity you have found that prevents cognitive aging?

There is no “one thing” that can prevent cognitive aging. By doing just one thing, you only exercise that one part of your brain. For example, you can’t exercise your whole brain just by jogging.

The simple concept is to protect your brain as you age through variety. Variety is not only the spice of life, but it will also promote brain health. The concept of variety is tripartite, just like a three-legged stool.

  • Mental – keep as mentally active as you can
  • Physical – keep as physically active as you can
  • Social – keep as socially engaged as you can

Variety is a balance across these three areas, but also within the areas.

When you retire, you can change your brain health. Since you will no longer be in a consistent environment, you will need to replace the mental, physical and social engagement with something else. You don’t want to drop that high level of activity into something lower or nonexistent. For example, retiring and making no plans other than watching television or racing cars is not healthy for your brain.

Physical activity is important. I read about a study that looked at how exercise affected getting Alzheimer’s a half or full decade later. Results showed a few interesting things related to memory:

  • The more calories burned and the more frequently participants exercised, the lesser their chance of developing Alzheimer’s.
  • It made a big difference for participants to burn calories through a variety of activities.
  • For participants who carried a specific Alzheimer’s gene, exercise didn’t affect the chance of developing or not developing Alzheimer’s.

Mental activity is the second part of variety in keeping your brain healthy. Do things that are relatively challenging that you are interested in and that you can repeat to keep your brain stimulated. Websites like lumosity.com offer interesting brain challenges and puzzles that keep your brain engaged by increasing in difficulty over time.

Social activity is the third part of variety in keeping your brain healthy. This one is pretty obvious; be social!

What are some recommendations to stay brain healthy as we age?

Find a good doctor

Have a good primary care doctor who keeps track of your health over your lifespan and someone who is open to questions. Aside from monitoring weight, cholesterol and blood pressure, a good doctor can identify things that would predict if someone will develop dementia. Something like having a bad health event, such as heart attack, surgery or stroke, are all stress events on the brain, which are shown to be a predictor for developing dementia. Undergoing surgical procedures with limited or no anesthesia (when possible) is also better for the brain.

Focus on sleep

Sleeping well is key: how we live our lives is how we sleep. Invest in your sleep! Figure out a way to personally adjust your lifestyle to develop “good sleep hygiene” by doing things like going to bed and getting up same time every day, not doing other things in bed like reading or watching television, etc. Avoid taking medications to help you sleep, which are generally only meant for short-term use.

A Fitbit or something similar can help you keep track of your sleep patterns and the results may surprise you. I was amazed when I first started wearing the Fitbit of how little quality sleep I was actually getting. It was a wakeup call for me, so I changed my sleep patterns, which made a difference in energy level and interest level.

Good sleep is related to life expectancy; sleeping better attributes to living longer. I define quality sleep as when you feel rested when you wake up in the morning. Adjust your sleep depending on your own needs as you age.

Limit the effects of stress

We can’t avoid stress 100 percent, so limit the effects of stressors in your life by learning a strategy that works for you, such as meditation or yoga. Whatever you choose, choose something that you will actually do and will enjoy doing.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }


Vanessa Keith May 6, 2015 at 11:17 am

I found this article to be very informative and helpful in learning about aging. I try to learn various things about aging since I am getting older, and the fact that my older relatives are no longer available in my lifetime. I liked the article 100%.


Diana May 6, 2015 at 8:25 am

Thank you! Great information. My husband is a kidney transplant and on many, many meds I am sure have an effect on his memory.


Donna May 6, 2015 at 8:20 am

Thank you for this article. I found it to be very informative. I plan to share the details with my husband who is considering retiring next year.


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