Improving Memory and Cognition in Seniors with Bacopa monnieri

Dr. Leah Hassall, ND

There are normal changes in cognition, or the way we think and learn information, which occur as we age. These changes are different from the changes in cognition that occur due to disease states such as Alzheimer’s dementia, stroke, brain tumor, malnutrition or side effects of medications. Cognitive change as a normal process of aging can in some cases mean an improvement. Studies have shown that vocabulary tends to continue to improve with age. Normal changes in cognition can also mean a decline in memory, how quickly you can do a task and your ability to reason. There are activities that have been linked to high cognitive function including: doing puzzles, using the computer, reading, playing cards/board games, playing musical instruments, studying a new subject, discussion groups, dancing, exercise, gardening, travel and socializing.

Bacopa monnieri, also known as brahmi or water hyssop, is a medicinal herb that grows naturally in India. It has been studied for its effects on memory, cognition and anxiety, especially in older adults. In eight independent high quality studies, Bacopa reliably and effectively improved the memory of healthy people and those in cognitive decline when taken for a period of at least 4-6 weeks. There is evidence that Bacopa increases the neurotransmitter serotonin and acts as a protective antioxidant in the hippocampus, the area of the brain thought to be the centre for memory. Bacopa has also been used traditionally in the treatment of anxiety, however, little evidence exists to support this use.

One notable side effect of Bacopa is upset stomach and so it should it be taken with food, preferably with some fat as this can improve the absorption of the herb. Historically in India, brahmi was taken with ghee or clarified butter. People who take prochlorperazine, thioridazine, perphenazine or other phenothiazines should not take Bacopa as it can interfere with these drugs.

It is important to remember that the majority of adults over the age of 65 will not develop dementia or mild cognitive impairment, however, recognizing the early warning signs and prompt treatment is essential. A naturopathic physician can help determine if you are experiencing significant cognitive decline and work with you to develop an integrative approach to your treatment.


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