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Memory: How it works - an overview

 

Albert Einstein was a passenger on a train bound west from New Jersey.  The conductor came by and requested the physicist's ticket.  Einstein searched his pockets but couldn't 

find it. Not wanting to embarrass the internationally known scientist, the conductor explained that he would come back.

True to his word, the conductor came back.  Now Einstein was frantic.  He couldn't find his ticket.  The conductor tried to calm him down, "Dr. Einstein, don't worry," he said.  "I recognize you.  I believe you bought a ticket.  There's really no need to show it to me."

Quickly, Einstein remarked: "No, you don't understand sir.  I need to find that ticket.  I don't remember where I'm going."

Are there days when you feel like Einstein on that train?  You can't remember where you left your keys.  You waste your time during your busy work day chasing down that one piece of paper that you just had in your hand.

Or maybe you can't seem to remember names like you once did.  And you just don't recall those facts and figures for your meetings like you used to unless you have a cheat sheet?

So is it just normal occasional memory lapses, is it just a natural part of the aging process or is there a more serious underlying cause?  Chances are good that it just a normal memory lapse that might or then might not be related to the aging process.

That's right!  Your sagging memory may have nothing to do with your age, despite what the medical community has been telling us for . . . well, for as long as we can remember.

Memory declines with age.  That used to be one of the laws of science.  The older you got, the less you could expect to remember. Now science is reversing its decision on this one.  While perhaps the older mind may work just a little bit slower than it younger counterpart, it seems that it is capable of storing and retaining just as much as the younger brain. 

Not only that, but studies indicate that age does, indeed, provide us with wisdom.  As you age, you not only don't lose your memory, but you are more adept at putting your memory to work for.  That is, you have an easier time finding practical ways to use your knowledge.  You're also able to draw lessons from the information you have stored away. 

If you feel as if your memory is slipping, you should first check your lifestyle for hints.  Very often, you'll find your memory sags when you're under stress.  And who among us doesn't experience some stress at time or another?  As the great motivational writer, Norman Vincent Peale used to say, "You only need to drive past a cemetery to find people who are not experiencing stress."  The point is that each of us is exposed to some level of stress at some point everyday.  It's how we handle that stress that determines how our memory functions.

To better understand why our memory sometimes falters, we need to understand how the brain stores information.  Information is not stored in a single area of your mind, but are scattered over various regions.  You can think of you brain as an area containing various "storage bins."  Each time you collect a piece of information, you brain decides how to categorize it and then what bin to drop it into.  The next time you go looking for those facts, your brain then at least has an idea of what bin it placed it in.

 

For example, you may store the name of a person you just met several moments ago in your recent memory right along side what you had for breakfast this morning. Your brain also has a different "storage bin" for long-term items, such as knowledge acquired years ago or your memories of childhood.  It also has a different "storage bin" for short-term facts, that information that you need at the moment, but you may not need tomorrow or even later in the day.

 

You'd be surprised how early in life that you begin to lose brain cells.  This phenomenon occurs as early as your 20s.  This is when your body manufactures less of the certain chemicals that are essential to the ideal functioning of your memory.

 

There are several logical reasons, besides aging that you may forget certain things.  Let's say you misplaced a piece of paper.  You'll get a fuller appreciation for the complexity of the human memory once you realize everything that goes into retrieving this information. While this may seem to be a single action, it's really a series of smaller steps.  You brain first retrieves the name of the object, in this case the paper, and then its shape, function and other physical qualities associated with it. In other words, your brain is reconstructing the entire image of that paper from various areas  or "storage bins" of the brain.

 

Memory experts explain that there are three reasons that may explain why you can't remember where you left it.  First, you may not have clearly registered, or taken notice, of where you laid that paper down.  Second, if you did register it in your brain, you failed to retain it. Finally, you may have registered and retained where that important paper is, but you aren't able to retrieve it.

 

If you want to remember where you put your piece of paper or your keys, you'll need to make an extra effort at going through all three stages of the memory process.

 

Forgetting may be as simple as failing to "encode" the action properly.  Perhaps you were distracted at the moment that encoding process would have been taking place.  Don't blame yourself, if the location of the paper never actually found its way into your memory in the first place.

 

 

 


Note: Some statements in this article may not be approved by the FDA. This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as professional medical advice.

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Greg Cryns
The Compleat Mother Magazine
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