How does memory work? It’s weird that some slip by too easily and others are so ingrained. With each experience we have, neurons transfer experience to short-term memory then to long-term memory where it is stored in the brain. When 2 neurons communicate repeatedly, that memory is strong and gets stored in the long-term memory.
So how is memory lost? Here are some reasons:
- Age. Unfortunately with age, our synapses weaken, there’s a decrease in production of neuron transmitters used for memory/learning, and the brain shrinks. We lose 5% of our hippocampus every decade.
- Health. Memory is strongest when we are deeply engaged and information is most relevant or important to us. Physical and mental health issues interfere with how we pay attention. This results in memory loss.
- Depression. Those who are depressed are 40% more likely to develop memory problems. Like the above problem, they struggle to pay attention to new information and less attentive due in part to low serotonin levels. Again, resulting in memory loss.
- Stress. Stress is necessary for survival; it increases alertness. But too much, like chronic stress, floods the brain with chemicals and results in brain cell loss, the inability to form new ones, and retention of new information decreases.
- Isolation. One study showed that older people with more social integration have a slower rate of memory decline over a 6 year period. Like a muscle, social interaction provides the brain a workout.
- Eat Well. Nutrients fuel the brain. In my office, we make these links between eating well, stress, depression, memory, etc. They are all connected. Learn to eat well with ease. With education, habit, and practice, you WILL eat well easily. Please, no dieting!
- Physical Activity. Exercise sends blood to the brain, replenishes oxygen, and regulates our hormones and blood sugar, and more. We have to move!
- Brain Exercise. The brain really is just another muscle. We use it or loss it so learn a new language and keep learning new things. Make learning your life-long goal.