By Dr. Pran Rangan
Memory is the mental capacity or faculty of retaining and reviving facts, events, impressions, etc. Alternatively, it can be defined as the mental faculty of recalling or recognizing previous experiences. It is essential in our everyday lives. We would not be able to function in the present without relying on our memory.
Human memory involves three components:
1. Encoding – Encoding is the first step to creating new memory. It allows information to be converted into a construct which is stored in the brain. It is a process that begins with perception through the senses. The creation of memory begins with attention. A memorable event causes neurons in the brain to fire more frequently, making the experience more intense and increasing the likelihood that the event is encoded as a memory. Emotion tends to increase attention.
2. Storing and retaining information – Storing and retaining is the more or less passive process of retaining information in the brain, whether it is the sensory memory, the short-term memory or the more permanent long-term memory. The more the information is repeated or used, the more likely it is to be retained in long-term memory.
3. Recalling – Recalling of memory refers to the subsequent re-accessing of events or information from the past, which have been previously encoded and stored in the brain. In common parlance, it is known as remembering.
However, memory is malleable and it tends to decay with age. So, one can stay sharp by learning about the science of recollection.
The human brain has an incredible ability to reshape itself when it comes to learning and memory. The brain’s natural power of neuroplasticity enables us to learn and improve our memory at any age.
Ways to sharpen memory –
The following are some of the important ways to sharpen memory:
Exercise your brain – Memory, like muscular strength, requires one to “use it or lose it.” The more one works out one’s brain, the better one will be able to process and remember information. To strengthen the brain, one needs to keep learning and developing new skills. The activity has to be something that is unfamiliar and out of our comfort zone. The activity should be challenging one. An activity, which allows starting at an easy level and works our way up as our skills improve, pushing us to continue to stretch our capabilities, is more suitable. However, we should choose activities that, while being challenging, are still enjoyable and satisfying.
Do physical exercises regularly – Exercise reduces stress hormones. Perhaps, exercise plays an important role in neuroplasticity by boosting growth factors and stimulating new neuronal connections. Aerobic exercise is particularly good for the brain, so we should choose activities that keep our blood pumping. On the whole, any physical exercise that is good for our heart is great for our brain. A year of regular aerobic exercise can up the size of an adult’s hippocampus by 2 percent, says research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The researchers have also found that regular strength training can boost short¬ and long¬ term memory performance and attention. Physical activities that require complex motor movements are particularly beneficial for brain building.
Go for the joe – The researchers have found that caffeine blocks inflammation in the brain, specifically adenosine receptors, which can start a chain reaction that begins the mind’s cognitive decline. The amount of caffeine we drink depends on the strength of the coffee and the size of the cup. One should not exceed the limit of drinking three cups of joe of standard size daily to derive the benefit. On the contrary, consuming more coffee than this may negatively affect mental health.
Develop healthy sleep habits – Over 95% of adults need between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep every night in order to avoid sleep deprivation. Even skimping on a few hours makes a difference! Memory, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking skills are all compromised. The research shows that sleep is necessary for memory consolidation, the key memory-enhancing activity occurring during the deepest stages of sleep.
Make friends – Humans are highly social. We’re not meant to survive, let alone thrive, in isolation. Relationships stimulate our brains. In fact, interacting with others may be the best kind of brain exercise. Research shows that having meaningful friendships are vital not only to emotional health but also to brain health. Researchers have also found that people with the most active social lives has the slowest rate of memory decline.
Keep stress in check – Stress is one of the brain’s worst enemies. Over time, chronic stress destroys brain cells and damages the hippocampus, the region of the brain involved in the formation of new memories and the retrieval of old ones. Studies have also linked stress to memory loss.
Eat brain-boosting food – A diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats (such as olive oil, nuts, fish) and lean protein will provide lots of health benefits. Such a diet can also improve memory. For brain health, it is significant that it’s not just what we eat, it’s also what we don’t eat.
Improve skills to memorize – We can take practical steps to support learning and memory by the following:
• Paying attention,
• Involving as many senses as possible,
• Relating information to what we already know,
• Focusing on understanding basic ideas for more complex material,
• Rehearsing information we’ve already learned,
• Using mnemonic devices to make memorization easier.
The bottom line is that human memory tends to decline with age but, on the contrary, it is malleable due to brain’s remarkable power of neuroplasticity. We can sharpen our memory by taking appropriate measures, which are within the reach of everyone but they need to be practiced regularly and effectively.