Healthy Living

Memory Loss Is Young Adults' Problem, Too: Depression, Poor Education, And Physical Inactivity Increase Risk

Young Memory Loss
Memory loss isn't only for the old, it seems. Atos International, CC BY-SA 2.0

At 25 years old, it’s hard to believe that among all the health problems that can develop, memory loss will be one of them. But according to a new survey from researchers at Gallup and the University of California, Los Angeles, certain lifestyle factors may lead to early onset of memory problems, no matter the person’s age.

Their findings show how health problems don’t discriminate when it comes to age and what we do early on really does set the stage for our quality of life later on. The lifestyle factors the researchers focused on, which are known for contributing to memory loss, were depression, a lower education level, being physically inactive, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and smoking. “In this study, for the first time, we determined these risk factors may also be indicative of early memory complaints, which are often precursors to more significant memory decline later in life,” said Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center, in a press release.

Over 18,500 individuals, ages 18 to 99, were asked about memory problems and the lifestyle factors. Unsurprisingly, memory problems were more prevalent as people aged. Twenty percent of the respondents had memory issues, with 14 percent of them being young adults, 22 percent being middle-aged, and 26 percent being older.

But they also found that among all the lifestyle factors, people who were depressed, physically inactive, weren’t educated, and had high blood pressure, were more likely to have problems with memory. Depression affected all age groups the most. And having just one of these problems dramatically increased memory issues — those who had more than one were even more likely to forget.

It makes sense that depression would have such a profound effect on memory. Depression is characterized by a severely apathetic state. People just don’t have the energy to care for what’s going on around them, causing the cognitive processes involved in memory to stagnate. A study from last October found that people with depression were more likely to forget whether a set of objects they had seen were the same, similar, or different to a new set of objects.

Among younger adults, the problem could just be stress, which bogs down the brain with anxiety and emotion, giving it fewer resources to consolidate memory. The researchers said that this, along with millennials' tendencies to overuse cell phones, may cause memory problems through the fact that none of them are paying attention to the world beyond their fingertips. 

But these problems may all be more interrelated than we might think. Physical inactivity may lead to not only higher blood pressure but also diabetes and obesity. Meanwhile, depressed people with diabetes have been shown to have a higher risk of memory loss, and people who are uneducated are more likely to be obese.

It seems that from a young age, the most important thing a person can do is be as healthy as possible, with the help of a proper diet and exercise. In doing so, all of these lifestyle factors can be prevented — even depression — and mental health can and will be preserved.

 

Source: Siddarth P, Ercoli L, Merrill D, Small G. PLOS ONE. 2014.

 

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