Memory And The Aging Brain


Several factors cause an aging brain to experience changes in its ability to retain and retrieve memories. In fact, one of the main issues is that the retrieval system can slow down considerably. That does not mean that you no longer have the information, rather it means it has become more difficult to find where it is stored.

It is rather like an “old” computer that works more slowly than a new one. Your brain has to find the correct section where the data is stored, then it has to determine in which group of cells to find the desired information.

Finally, it needs to find the particular neurons that hold that data. This can all take time in an older brain.

[bctt tweet=”The more impatient you become and try hard to recall the information, the longer it can take to find it. “ via=”no”]

It is better to just “let it go” and when you least expect it, the word, name, etc. will return…it will just “pop” into your mind.

Here are examples of those factors:

The Hippocampus: this inner portion of the brain is mainly responsible for long term memory. So when you have concentrated well enough to encode new information, the hippocampus sends a signal to store that information as long-term memory.

This happens more easily if it’s related to something you already know, or if it stimulates an emotional response to the situation or information. This portion of the brain is especially vulnerable to age-related deterioration, and that can affect how well you retain information.

There is a relative loss of neurons (brain cells) with age: This can definitely affect the activity of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters and their receptors. An older person often experiences decreased blood flow to the brain because they process nutrients that enhance brain activity less efficiently than a younger person.

However, in healthy older adults, these changes represent more of a slowing in the ability to absorb, store, and retrieve new information, not truly a loss.

The factual information you’ve accumulated over the years remains largely intact, as does procedural memory.

[bctt tweet=”You can make and recall new long-term memories; the process just takes a little longer.” username=”bizmastersglobal”]

Of course, some older adults do develop more significant problems with memory that are the result of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Dementia, stroke, injury(from a fall), poor nutrition, other physiological issues, or emotional problems. Nonetheless, if you continue to challenge your brain by learning new things which require parts of your brain that you have not used much in the past, you will continue to create new neurons to deal with that new information and new and more neuropathways to access this new data. All of this will improve the function of your brain by keeping it active and working….this will also enhance your memory.

Examples of such activities include learning a new language, how to paint, draw, weave, take photographs, or other areas of art, how to play a musical instrument, singing in a choir, taking dancing lessons, trying to cook new recipes from a different culture, learning new computer programs, or taking some continuing education courses in areas of science, art history or anything you might always have wanted to explore but did not have the time to do so when working full time and/or raising a family.

It also important for seniors to eat healthfully, get adequate, deep sleep, refrain from smoking, get regular exercise, keep stress at low levels, and socialize with others. All these elements not only are good for your body and general health, but are also beneficial to the health and function of your brain.

In addition, there are a number of “tricks” that you can employ to aid your memory. Here are a few:

Employ mnemonic devices….these are memory methods that use an association of the information you want to remember with a visual image, a sentence, or a word.

Common types of mnemonic devices include:

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  1. Visual images such as a microphone to remember the name “Mike” or a rose for “Rosie.” Use positive, pleasant images, because the brain often blocks out unpleasant ones, and make them vivid, colorful, and three-dimensional because then they will be easier to remember.
  2. Sentences in which the first letter of each word is part of or represents the initial of what you want to remember. Millions of musicians, for example, first memorized the lines of the treble staff with the sentence “Every good boy does fine” (or “deserves favor”), which representing the notes E, G, B, D, and F. Medical students often learn groups of nerves, bones, and other anatomical features using nonsense sentences.
  3. Acronyms, which are initials that create pronounceable words. The spaces between the lines on the treble staff, for example, are F, A, C, and E: FACE. Or “some mothers have electric ovens” to recall the names of the Great Lakes: Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario.
  4. Rhymes and alliteration can also help. Do you remember learning “30 days hath September, April, June, and November”? A hefty guy named Robert can be remembered as “Big Bob” and a smiley co-worker as “Perky Pat” (though it might be best to keep such names to yourself).
  5. Jokes or even off-color associations using facts, figures, and names you need to recall, because funny or peculiar things are easier to remember than mundane images. Again, these can be kept to yourself however, if they help you to recall things when you need them it is good to create such associations.
  6. “Chunking” information, means arranging a long list into smaller units or categories that are easier to remember. If you can reel off your Social Security number without looking at it, that’s probably because it’s arranged in groups of 3, 2, and 4 digits, or in Canada, in groups of 3 digits, not a string of 9.
  7. “Method of loci”, this is an ancient and effective way of remembering a lot of material, such as a speech. You associate each part of what you have to remember with a landmark in a route you know well, such as your commute to work or your favourite walk.[/message][su_spacer]

So, even if you are a senior, there is no reason you cannot continue to learn, recall and enjoy your life. It is easy to do so when you take care of yourself and enjoy your friends and family, too!

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