Are you losing your memory? If you are worried about this, then what you are about to read will tell help you figure out if you really are.
Bus, Pencil, Shoes.
I want you to remember these 3 objects. Go on, etch them in your memory. Keep them there until further instruction.
Now, there are a number of reasons why someone might lose their memory. For some, it is just a matter of chance that they have forgotten something.
For others, recollecting recent events becomes harder and harder with each passing day.
For a few, remembering their own family members becomes a task. This could be due to conditions such as age related (or senile) dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Before you start to panic about whether your memory is failing you completely, let me tell you this – Forgetting things from time to time is completely normal.
In fact, as we get older, it is quite natural for us to forget things.
Misplacing keys, forgetting where you put your bank cheque book and not remembering if you turned off the stove are pretty normal really. Everyone does that.
But it is when you start forgetting things that are really important that memory loss becomes concerning.
Creating A Memory
How is a memory created in our minds?
Firstly, the memory is encoded. Your mind takes in the information.
Secondly, the memory is processed. The piece of information fed to the brain is placed in a particular aspect of it so that it can be recollected later. This stage is sometimes called consolidation.
Finally, recall. Recall or retrieval of memory is where you think back and remember something.
Every bit of information that you are exposed to undergoes this process. Whether you recall it or not can however depend on whether you were attentive at the time or not.
Ever had a loved one blame you for ‘hearing, not listening’?
The Biggest Enemy Of Recall
Whatever it is the memories you create, you are always against one arch enemy when it comes to recall.
As time passes, memories fade.
Just think back and see how many memories of yours you can vividly recollect. Most of the memories we eventually have, say from travelling, are those of the pictures we take rather than the memory itself.
It may feel at times like you are losing your memory.
Let me ask you a question now.
Can you tell me in the next 5 seconds what it is you had for breakfast this morning?
If you can, then that’s great.
Now, can you tell me what you had for lunch 1 week ago?
It’s harder, right?
Memory has a number of different aspects to it. When I was doing my research for this article, I was really quite amazed with the different types of memory we have.
Let’s take a look…..
Types Of Memory
When doing a Google Scholar search on ‘physiology of memory loss’, I came across a publication on memory disorders from 1990.
Much of the information that we have still remains the same, especially when it comes to classifying memory loss.
When we think of memory loss, we often recognize short term and long term loss.
But memory is a lot more than just ‘short’ and ‘long’ term.
I want you to stare at an object in the distance for around 10 seconds. Now look away at a white wall or a plain background.
You will find that a part of the object is still visible, but only for a fraction of a second. In fact, it lasts only for 250 milliseconds.
This is called visual memory, or iconic memory.
A similar thing occurs with sounds, with the memory lasting for around 1 to 2 seconds. It is a bit like an echo within the ear. This auditory memory is called echoic memory.
Immediate memory is the same as short term memory. It usually lasts around 30 seconds or so, with clinical studies indicating a total memory duration of around 7 minutes.
Short term memory involves remembering things like telephone numbers or home addresses. If you do not pay attention and remain vigilant, the memory fades away in a matter of minutes. Any distraction can make you lose your memory as well.
Recent memory is another type of memory, called by some as short term memory, while some call it long term memory. While the terminology is not very clear, it is better we take a look at what it means.
Recent memory involves recollection of events from either minutes ago to weeks ago.
How long has taken for you to read this article so far? Around 3 minutes?
Then you should be able to tell me the 3 objects I told you at start of this article.
This tests your recent memory. If you could not recollect the 3 objects I previously mentioned, they you MIGHT have memory problems.
Remote memory, also called long term memory, is the ability to recall events that occurred many years ago. The memories created are deeply etched in your brain.
I have told you quite a bit about the types of memory, and I do think I should stop there before confusing you further. However, this article would be incomplete should I not mention the other types of memory that have described in books and research.
1. Episodic memory – Memory of events. Remember what happened during last Diwali? That is episodic memory
2. Semantic memory – Memory of facts.
3. Procedural memory – Memory of skills, movements and tasks. For example, riding a bike, tying your shoelaces etc.
4. Reference memory – The memory that we turn to when we quote our previous experiences.
5. Semantic memory – Memory of short and important details such as why is Diwali celebrated or how many minutes there are in an hour.
6. Declarative memory – Memory involved in recalling details for a particular purpose. For example, remembering formulas for the purposes of a maths exam.
Where Are Memories Stored?
The brain is subdivided into multiple parts. One such part is called the hippocampus.
Clinical studies have shown that the nerve fibers in the hippocampus are responsible for memory. More recent studies however have shown that memory is related to DNA in the brain.
The DNA in our body is like 2 pieces of string twisted around each other. In the presence of specific enzymes, these strings can be unwound and break.
It is believed that the new memory stimulus breaks this DNA and re-attaches it in a new form, creating a new memory.
In other words, with every memory in the brain, a new connection is formed between nerve fibers.
I will not go into too much detail here as it might just confuse you. But if you wish to learn more, here is a good article explaining memory in scientific terms.
Testing Your Memory
There are a number of different ways to test your memory.
A number of different apps and games have emerged that test your memory as well these days. Just do a search on Google Play or the Apple App Store and you can find plenty.
In the medical world, we test memory through something called the mental test scoring system. In clinical practice, I often use the Abbreviated Mental Test Score, or AMTS, to assess how good an individuals memory is.
The table below lists the 10 questions that are asked.
1. What is your age?
2. What is the time (to nearest hour)
3. Can you remember this address? Address for recall at end of test – this should be repeated to ensure it has been heard correctly: 42 West Street
4. What year are we in?
5. Name of hospital (or could be town)
6. Recognition of two persons (e.g. a relative or carer)
7. What is your date of birth?
8. Year of First World War (or when did we get independence)
9. Name of present monarch (or head of state – prime minister, president)
10. Can you count backwards from 20-1?
As you can see, the questions are quite simple. However, not many people can answer these correctly or accurately, especially if they have memory loss.
So, did you try the test? How did you score?
Score >6 = Normal memory
Score 3 – 6 = Moderately impaired memory
Score <3 = Poor memory
Ways To Improve Memory
I have previously written an article on memory and how you can improve it, which you can read here.
The basic principles behind keeping your memory sharp and focused is same as keeping the rest of your body healthy. You don’t have to spend hours a day solving mind-bending (even mind-numbing!) puzzles or complex equations.
Eat well, perform regular exercise, read often (than watch TV all the time), maintain a healthy body weight and socialising can all help keep your brain on it’s toes.
In fact, simple things such as looking after your dog and spending time with your grandchild have all been shown to keep you from losing your memory.
Don’t do things in a hurry
If you do things in a rush, you are unlikely to remember them. Instead, take your time when doing tasks. That way, you allow your brain to form a memory of it as well.
Daily chores and tasks need to become a routine. Make sure you always keep your keys and your wallet in the same place, so you don’t have to hunt for them every time.
Don’t try multi-tasking
You may think you are good at it but you will soon realize that you are more forgetful than you thought.
A good night’s rest can reset your mind and prepare it for fresh memories.
If you are an exam going student, make sure you get at least a few hours of sleep to absorb new information from that huge textbook you are expected to remember (flashback of medical college days! Lot’s of coffee and no sleep!).
Learn something new
It could be a new skills, a new language or even start cooking! When you learn something new, you fire up the brain and form new connections within it. This creates new memories, and improves your brain power.
Using your brain wisely
An article on Harvard Health talks about ‘economising your brain use’. Confusing at first, they go on to explain what they mean.
Modern technology has made life a little too easy for us. While the convenience is great, it has kind of made us stop using our brains.
Around 15 years ago, people used maps, asked for directions, read books and used paper calendars all the time. Fast forward to the present date, and there are apps for pretty much everything.
I am not saying that we should not use these apps, but it is evident that it encourages lesser use of our brain.
Maybe once in a while try stop using gadgets and go old school.
Try omega 3 supplements
Omega 3 supplements are known to have a number of different benefits. One such benefit is a better memory.
While there still remains controversy regarding the real benefits of omega 3 on brain health, one study found that regular omega 3 supplementation over a period of 30 days improved overall cognition and made the brain work ‘less hard’.
Other studies have shown no real benefit.
The school of though now is that omega 3 supplements are generally good for health. You may not want to take them specifically to improve your memory but may want to take them for the benefits they have on the rest of your body.
You can buy the best omega 3 supplements online.
Why Is One Person’s Memory Better Than Another’s?
When I was in school, I remember studying as hard as the next person. Despite doing well, there were always a handful who did better.
At the time, it bothered me a little I guess. But now I wonder why it is some people have a better memory than others.
To an extent, memory is defined by genetics. It is passed on through generations. A chemical called dopamine has been found to be higher in those who have a better memory.
In one study that evaluated the memory of people for different colors, those who had higher levels of dopamine in their brains could recall the colors a lot better than those who had lower levels.
What this means is that if the dopamine levels in your brain are low, then there is a possibility of you losing your memory.
But genetics does not explain it all.
Lifestyle changes and the choices we make when it comes to way we lead our lives make a big difference. Avoiding smoking and doing plenty of exercise all keep you focused and sharp.
Over time, the brain becomes a powerhouse and the memory becomes strong.
It is bit like weight lifting and building your muscles.
When it comes to your memory, there are many ways you can improve it. If you feel you are losing your memory, remember – there is not just one fix; there are a number of fixes.
Simple steps can help you keep your memory strong for years to come!
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