Luminosity, Brain Games………do these sound familiar? Many companies are catering to the baby boom generation that is starting to show concern about their memory and brain function.
Sometimes when I talk to families, they express concern that their loved one has little short-term memory, but can recall memories from long ago.
So, what is memory? We basically have two forms of memory, long-term and short-term memory. Long-term memories are not stored in a single part of the brain, rather they are scattered in different regions. Long-term memory is broken down into explicit memory and implicit memory. When you perform acts without much thought, such as swimming, you may have learned it at a point in your life, but now you do this without thinking, you are using implicit memory. But if you are trying to recall a particular event or fact, then you are using explicit memory. Amazingly, if there is a sensory portion to the memory (i.e. smell or how something physically felt) we recall that memory much better.
Short-term memory is sometimes called “working memory” and the prefrontal cortex of our brain plays a major role. Once we obtain information, our brain determines whether it should be stored or discarded. We take that memory, we may use it, and then either store it in the long term bucket or discard it. Our short term memory can keep about seven items simultaneously in memory for use and recall, and all this happens in less than a minute! So as you are reading this particular sentence, you have several other short-term memories you are holding. Now if you don’t make a conscious effort to keep this memory, it will be discarded. So to move this into your long-term memory, you will either need repetition, some motivation or association with something that gives it meaning to you. Sometimes when we are busy, multitasking or stressed our ability to use our short-term memory function declines.
It is important to know that normal aging is not the cause of cognitive issues. There is some normal decline of the brain function as we age, and our neurons and synapses may not function as they did when we were younger, but it does not mean we automatically develop memory disorders such as dementia. If you remember, our brain has plasticity, so the more we use the brain muscle and try to generate new synapses, the better we are able to ward off memory disorders. So I do advise my clients and friends to continue with the computerized brain games and anything that will help strengthen the brains plasticity.
Here is a piece of research to think about:
A 2015 study at the BrainHealth Center of the University of Texas in Dallas suggested a possible link between poor short-term or working memory and depression. The 10 to 15 percent with the poorest working memory in the study tended to mull things over and brood too much, leading to a risk of depression. People with a good working memory, on the other hand, are more likely to be optimistic and self-assured, and more likely to lead a happy and successful life.
Stay optimistic, not only does it help your brain, but your outlook on life will be much more satisfying too, and keep exercising your brain!