Q. I am 54 and worried about my short term memory. My wife gets annoyed because I forget things she’s told me to do. At work I keep lists so I don’t slip up. I used to remember all my appointments but now I’d be lost without my organizer. My doctor says I don’t have Alzheimer’s but I am still concerned.
I take metoprolol for blood pressure and Tylenol PM to get to sleep. I have just started taking ginkgo in the hope it will improve my memory. Please send me any information you have about this herb and interactions with my medicine.
A. Ginkgo has been used in Europe for decades to treat memory problems. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Oct. 22/29, 1997) suggested that this herb might slow the decline due to Alzheimer’s disease. Although ginkgo improves learning and memory in animals, another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Aug 21, 2002, demonstrated no measurable improvement in memory or cognitive ability in healthy older adults.
To learn more about Ginkgo, visit our herb library.
It is possible that your medication is contributing to the memory problem and mental fuzziness. Beta-blockers such as metoprolol, atenolol and propranolol have been linked to forgetfulness. Don’t stop your medicine, but ask your physician if an alternate drug would be appropriate for you. Most European physicians have stopped using beta blockers as first-line treatments for hypertension. You can learn about this in much greater deal in our chapter on high blood pressure in our book Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy. This book provides many other options for blood pressure control.
Diphenhydramine (the PM in many nighttime pain relievers such as Advil PM and Tylenol PM) may also reduce alertness. Most people do not appreciate how many medications, including some over-the-counter drugs, can throw a monkey wrench into the mental machinery. Certain drugs for bladder problems, cholesterol control, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and heartburn are just a few examples. If you would like a more detailed list you can find out about medications that are either inappropriate for older people or drugs that can cause memory problems and cognitive dysfunction in our Guide to Drugs and Older People as well as in our new book, Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid them.
You can also access a free Guide to Ginkgo.