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Your brain encodes and stores information in your memory banks for retrieval on demand. The information lies beneath your conscious mind until you, or the world around you, brings the memories back to the surface. Sometimes, the memories are lost, either for a short while or forever. Other times, you may recall a strong memory only to find out later that it was a falsity. You have the best shot at retaining a strong, working memory by learning more about the way this system works and what tactics you can use to strengthen and reinforce the process.
There are three main forms of memory storage: sensory, short term and long term. As the name suggests, your sensory memory stores all of the information your senses take in from the world around you. The way an item looks, smells, sounds, feels or tastes is immediately placed into this relatively temporary storage system. Over a short period of time, the memory degrades unless you repeat the experience or recall the sensory memory, which is called rehearsal.
With rehearsal, short-term memory banks kick in and store the information for up to a minute. If your brain is able to continue rehearsing the information, the memories move to the long-term storage system. Unlike the sensory and short term storage systems, the long term memory has the ability to store up to 2.5 million gigabytes, of information for a potentially unlimited amount of time.
Since memories require rehearsal to enter your long-term memory banks, only bits and pieces of your life experiences are committed to memory. Without regular recall of the stored memories, your ability to recall and recount the information may diminish. As a result, your earliest memories may start in your preschool years when you are an adult and advance to a later age as you move through life.
Although you cannot actively recall the information, your brain actually starts encoding memories in the womb at about 20 weeks gestational age. Encoding information but failing to recall it on demand is actually quite common all throughout life. The memories may be fuzzy or just completely nonexistent. Researchers believe this happens due to a failure of the voluntary searching mechanism that sifts through the memory banks to find the information you seek. Traumatic experiences, medical conditions and interference from competing attention vectors can also contribute to recall failure.
Your memory also has the ability to retrieve and deliver false memories to your conscious mind. Hearing a story from multiple sources may become encoded as a personal experience in your memory banks, even though you were never at the event in question at all. The potential for abuse of this mechanism has researchers looking intensely at the practices of using eyewitness accounts in the legal realm. Alarmingly, no one is immune to the creation of false memories.
Regularly challenging your sensory, short term and long term memory systems to encode and recall basic information is by far the best way to strengthen this important tool. Memory challenges include using visualization to remember lists, repetition to match names with faces and making up rhymes or mnemonic devices to recall important strings of information.
A healthy diet and good sleep habits can help protect your memory as well. You should consume a diet with plenty of antioxidants from fresh fruits and vegetables to keep free radicals from damaging the cells in your brain. Foods high in omega 3 fatty acids, such as salmon and walnuts, also have a positive impact on your brain health and memory. Get at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep to help your brain transfer short-term memories to long-term storage.
If you feel like your memory is on the sudden, swift decline, you may need to see a doctor to rule out the development of certain medical conditions, such as early onset Alzheimer’s. Schedule an appointment with your doctor at Revere Health to discuss any memory problems and seek help with strengthening your mind.
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.