This Little-Known Brain Chemical is the Reason Why Your Memory Is Losing Its Edge
Acetylcholine is a chemical messenger or neurotransmitter, that plays an important role in brain and muscle function. Imbalances in acetylcholine are linked with chronic conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
It all started with minor slips you easily dismissed as "senior moments." You forgot your keys. You called someone by the wrong name. The word you were looking for was on the tip of your tongue, but you couldn't quite grasp it. You don't feel any older, but you do feel yourself changing. Researchers agree this could be a sign of something more serious.
A study published in the British Medical Journal of January 2012 has concluded that age-related cognitive decline begins much earlier than expected: by our mid-40s. Even more distressing, this decline can progress at very unpredictable rates. Scientists have identified that acetylcholine, a key neurotransmitter, is responsible for forming new connections and strengthening neural pathways in the brain. In other words, it keeps your mind sharp. However, persistently low levels of this key neurotransmitter place you at risk. Without healthy levels of acetylcholine, the brain can physically shrink; at which point, the damage can be very difficult to repair.
And yet, we all know people of advanced age who seem immune to this cognitive decline. These so-called superagers retain high mental acuity well into their later years. Scientists have determined that superagers minds' function with high levels of acetylcholine. Therefore, their minds have stronger and more numerous neural connections. This creates the ideal environment for a steel-trap memory. Unfortunately, for most of us, levels of acetylcholine decrease as we age and rapidly so after age 45.
But it's not just our age that is to blame. Like a muscle, your brain needs constant exercise to stay in shape. Modern society deprives us of essential mental exercise.
Before the written word became accessible and affordable, oral history was the only way to spread culture to younger generations. As a result, a strong memory was an essential part of everyday life. For example, ancient Greek poets would memorize and recite entire epic poems that were thousands of lines long. Because of the demands society placed on their brains, these individuals engaged in rigorous daily mental exercise. They did not have telephones, TVs, and computers distracting their attention and distorting the ways in which their brains process information. This kind of singular focus required optimal levels of acetylcholine.
Fig 2. A network of neural connections in the brain.
Modern technology denies crucial exercise to certain areas of our brains in two important ways, causing it to atrophy over time. We are exposed to numerous sources of s