Key Takeaways:

  1. Improving Memory as we age: requires a combination of nutrition, lifestyle & brain specific exercises
  2. Understanding Memory Categories: We broke down the intricacies of memory into sensory, short-term, and long-term memory. Each serves a specific role and is vital to different aspects of our daily lives.
  3. Working Memory Vs. Short-term Memory: Not the same, folks! While they may seem similar, working memory allows for more active manipulation of information for immediate tasks, whereas short-term memory serves as a simple temporary storage.
  4. Test Your Memory at Home: We offered simple, yet effective exercises to test your memory at home. These tests are not only informative but also a fun way to engage with a partner.

For this month, I’ll be embarking on a series of posts centered around improving memory & memory loss, exploring ways to enhance it as we gracefully age, and nurturing the well-being of our brains in general. As our parents journey through the years, an increasing responsibility falls upon us to care for them while also looking out for our own welfare. Often, people focus on retaining physical abilities like walking and mobility as they grow older, while the significance of maintaining optimal brain function sometimes takes a back seat.

If you’ve witnessed an elderly parent or relative experiencing a decline, you understand how those who face challenges with their brain function require continuous, specialized care, and lose their ability to continue living independently. Contemplate what you’d wish for your own future and if you could take steps now to improve your ability to stay independent as you get older, would you make your brain health a priority?

As we grow older, our thinking & memory might not be as sharp as before. It’s like sometimes we can forget things like where we put our keys or struggle to remember recent events.  Sometimes it is brain fog due to a underlying health condition.

Some folks might experience this decline more than others because of various factors like how strong their minds are or how much they’ve exercised their brains over the years. So, while memory might not be as quick as it used to be, everyone’s journey through aging is unique. The good news is there are steps you can take to slow the decline & improve your memory.

Questions that I’ll be addressing over the month:

  • How do I know if my memory loss is aging vs. mild cognitive decline vs. dementia vs. Alzheimer’s?
  • Symptoms of memory loss?
  • Common causes & lifestyle factors that contribute to memory loss?
  • When is memory loss a problem?
  • How does memory loss start – parts of the brain?
  • Do I have memory loss?
  • How to improve memory loss? Strategies for the long term.

First, we need to talk about…

What is memory?

Memory has 3 main categories:

Information flows in from your senses to the short term, and then to the long term.

From Long-term memory, it breaks down into different types of memory:

What is Sensory Memory?

This is made up of your 5 senses:

  • Smell
  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Taste
  • Touch

Your memory takes in the information provided by your senses, and then it proceeds to short-term memory.  You can recall information stored in your memory with or without the help of prompts from your senses.

A prompt might be …

  • The smell of your favorite restaurant or the ocean
  • The first few notes of your favorite song
  • The view from the vista of a hike

What is short-term memory & working memory?

Short-term memory & working memory, sometimes used interchangeably, are different.  However, both refer to the storage of information for a short amount of time. Personally, I think they should have separate designations.

Short-term memory

The short-term memory stores information for a brief period of time, about 20-30 seconds. This helps you remember things for immediate tasks and you constantly use it.  You use it to remember the beginning of this sentence as you get to the end or while following a recipe, remembering the amount of vegetables to add to the soup you are making. Short-term memory has a limited capacity, holding about 5-9 blocks of information at a time.  While the working memory processes and structures the information for a short time.

Working Memory

Working memory allows for the manipulation of information while it’s briefly being stored.  Think of it as your cognitive sticky note for tasks at hand. Basically, you use it to complete immediate tasks in the present. To simplify, let’s break it down. Consider short-term memory as the tool to recall the cost of a gallon of milk while you are shopping.

Working memory takes this up a notch. It not only remembers prices but lets you mentally add up the milk, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil in your cart. In other words, short-term memory allows you to recall the prices, but your working memory allows you to add, subtract, and rearrange those numbers.

However, like any workspace, working memory has limitations. It can’t juggle an infinite amount of data, and its capacity is influenced by the kind of information it’s dealing with.  It also plays a pivotal role in decision-making, multitasking, and tackling problem-solving head-on. It’s your brain’s assistant for real-time mental action. If you have problems with your working memory you may take longer to figure something out.

Both short-term & working memory can be improved with consistent use and repetition.

Remember back in the day when you could effortlessly reel off the phone numbers of tons of people you knew? Heck, you might even recall some old landline digits now. But then came cell phones, making our lives easier, yet robbing us of the need to remember numbers. No more punching in digits; we just tap a name.

Improving memory hack:

Want to sharpen that memory? Dial those digits! Physically input the number on your cell. You’ll be amazed at how it sticks. It’s like an extra workout for your brain – involving more brain areas, etching the number into memory. So, next time you reach for your contacts, pause and dial – your brain will thank you!

What is Long Term Memory?

Working memory and long-term memory work together to support cognitive function, and working memory is essential for the formation and retrieval of long-term memories. When you encounter new information, your working memory allows you to hold onto that information long enough for it to be transferred to your long-term memory.

Similarly, when you retrieve information from your long-term memory, your working memory allows you to hold onto that information long enough to use it in real time. In other words, anytime you’re reminiscing about childhood memories with a family member or recalling a past experience with a friend, your working memory and long-term memory are working hand-in-hand.

Long-term memory consists of explicit & implicit memory.  Explicit memories are things we can actively recall.  Implicit memory is things we don’t actively recall, we just remember how to do.

Explicit memories consist of episodic or semantic types.  Episodic memory is needed to recall past events – recent or distant.  Remembering your favorite vacation as a child, what you had for lunch, where you parked your car, or your first day of school.  If you are struggling to recall recent memories such as where you parked the car, you may have a problem with your episodic memory.

Semantic memories you use to remember the meanings of words, facts, familiar faces, or objects.  Examples include knowing the capital cities in all the states or that you use a cup to drink from. If you have a problem with your semantic memory, you may have difficulty finding the right words when you are talking to someone

Implicit memories are unconscious.  These fall under the category of Procedural Memory. The term describes long-term memory for how to do things, both physical and mental, and is involved in the process of learning skills that require considerable practice. Things we learned to do but don’t think about – like riding a bike, tying your shoes, or driving a manual shift car.

Why do we create memories?

Memory serves many purposes, from being our time machine back to cherished moments to being the vault of knowledge about the world’s workings. But it’s not just about reminiscing or knowing stuff – it’s like our personal life coach, helping us figure out how to act smartly based on what we’ve been through. Imagine it as our secret weapon for adapting to life’s twists and turns.

Think about it – memory isn’t just for individual recall; it’s our backstage pass to understanding the world and connecting with others. It’s like the glue that holds our experiences together and helps us make sense of the chaos around us. So, whether we’re recalling grandma’s cookie recipe or learning from a mistake, memory is the unsung hero shaping our journey.

Curious about your memory’s current state?

You can easily gauge its performance with simple tests you can do at home, and you’ll just need a partner to join in on the fun.

Simple Word Memory Test:

Here’s a quick way to check your memory. Have your partner name three different objects around the room, like a desk, a photograph, and a houseplant. Your task is to repeat them back. Then, engage in a brief conversation about something unrelated, like planning what to cook for dinner. Afterward, challenge yourself to recall those three objects. If they slip your mind, don’t worry – it happens to the best of us.

Simple Numbers Challenge:

Now, let’s test those number recall skills. Grab a calculator and input three random digits. Take a short 3-5 seconds to memorize them, then quickly jot down the sequence without peeking. Finally, compare what you wrote with the original numbers. As you get the hang of it, try adding more digits to the sequence. Can you remember 7, 8, or even 9 in a row? Don’t forget to time yourself to see how swift you are.

If you’re up for more, there are also free memory tests available online that can provide extra insights into your memory prowess. Happy memory testing!

If you are up for more, there are also free memory tests available online that can provide extra insights into your memory skills.  Happy memory testing!

Stay tuned for our next post where we’ll delve deeper into the mystery of memory loss. Is it a normal part of aging or could it be a sign of something more concerning? We’ll explore how to differentiate between normal age-related memory decline and potential warning signs of cognitive issues. Plus, we’ll offer some actionable tips you can implement right away to take charge of your brain health. You won’t want to miss it!