Understanding Your Memory & Memory Loss
As one of our most unique assets, the human memory serves as an invaluable repository of information that builds the foundation for the lives we live; from the memory of your first child being born, to remembering where you left your phone. There are two different types of memory storage for the brain, short-term memory, and long-term memory. Short term memory storage is information that is only stored for 15 to 30 seconds. An example; remembering a phone number long enough to dial. Most people can only remember 4 to 7 bits or pieces of information in their short-term memory at a time. Below are a few things that everyone forgets from time to time and you should not be alarmed when you do:
- Where have I left my car keys
- Walk into a room and forget what you went in to do or get
- Calling someone by the wrong name from time to time
There are of course many other examples but the cause of this memory loss is only due to other distractions or other bit and pieces being held in your short-term memory. Your long-term memory is something quite different and is, of course by nature, a bit more complex. There are three different types of long-term memory.
- Procedural memory. Something that we learn to do by doing it over and over again.
- Such as: learning to ride a bicycle or typing on a keyboard.
- Semantic long-term memory. The knowledge that we have learned about our world.
- Such as: we know that the Earth revolves around the sun and Washington DC is the location of our nation’s capital.
- Episodic long-term memory. Significant events in our lives.
- Such as: having a car accident, your 1st day of school, what you were doing on September 11, 2001.
Based on these three types of long-term memory, one can see where emotion and action play a key part in the storage of information into our long-term memory. The repeated action of riding a bicycle and the positive emotion of learning to do it (without crashing) make it something that most people never really forget how to do. Above we looked at a few examples of things not to worry about when you forget them from your short-term memory.
Below are just a few examples of memory loss that you should discuss with your physician.
- You repeatedly ask the same question to the same person or persons
- You do not recall if you have eaten a meal today
- You get lost while driving close to home
- Your withdrawal from normal day to day life
Some causes of memory loss.
- Sleep apnea. The condition known as sleep apnea deprives the brain of oxygen and thus the destruction of normal brain function.
- Silent strokes
- Medications such sleeping aides; anti-anxiety medications; anti-histamines; painkillers; and diabetes medications
- Nutritional deficiencies such as the lack of the B-vitamins in your diet
- Anxiety and depression
While the loss of memory is catastrophic not only for the individual but for their family, it is important to note there are precautions that can be taken to prevent memory loss and help maintain healthy brain function:
- Get a good night of sleep (at least 7 hours)
- Exercise this also helps reduce stress; anxiety as well as increase your circulation
- Avoid unnecessary medication whenever possible
- Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
- Take a good supplement that contains the necessary B vitamins to include B-12
In addition, there are foods that also support optimal brain function.
- Oily fish such as salmon and trout
- Flaxseed oil