Names, places, people, events … things that should be important and easy to remember, but for some reason aren’t. Being forgetful is something we all laugh off. But when your lapses of memory come quick and fast, it can leave you a little concerned.
Inside A Memory
Memories are your brain’s way of storing and retaining information on the past or about things you’ve already experienced so they can be pulled up as needed in the future. In essence, your memory is what defines a lot of who you are. A storehouse of your experiences, activities, and interactions, they modify your behavior and make you who you are. For instance, if you remember having the time of your life on a trip to Peru, it might cause you to head toward the Peruvian-inspired ceviche on a menu on a night out with friends years later.
Your memory could be
- episodic or event-related, like that first date, a major meeting at work, or an especially enthralling science experiment at school;
- semantic or related to your memory for meanings and facts like how many Olympic golds the US contingent brought home from Beijing, the conversion from miles to kilometers, or the currency of Brazil;
- procedural or related to your memory of how to do something (including all motor skills); and
- working, which is short-term memory related to what you need to process to function in the current moment.1
As you age, you lose as much as 5 percent of brain volume and weight every decade after you hit 40.2 Episodic memory begins to wane in middle age, while semantic memory actually improves between middle age and the start of your silver years, but declines as you grow much older.3 Traumatic brain injury could also cause memory loss due to damage to nerve fibers. This could cause issues with prospective memory (your memory for things to be done at a later time) and declarative memory (your memory for events/facts).4
Is Your Memory Getting Weaker?
Besides head injuries, old age, mental health problems including depression, and being chronically stressed can cause your memory to fail. Age-related deterioration of your memory is largely due to a decline in neurons in your hippocampus, combined with a dip in levels of neurotransmitters needed for your memory, information storage, and learning.5
You should be able to gauge which aspects of your memory you face particular trouble with, depending on what you have problems remembering. Keep track of this in a notebook or on your computer or smartphone, and consult a professional psychologist, taking care not to leave any details out. If you suspect you could be facing dementia or Alzheimer’s related memory loss, consult a neurologist. Brain imaging technology can be used for an early diagnosis of the problem.
Bringing Back Lost Memory
Imagine if you lost a certain memory of a person or event that was important to you. Those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia live this reality every single day. On an off day, someone with dementia might forget that their beloved wife of 40 years is no more or fail to recognize their own grandchildren. There wasn’t much science or medicine offered for those with severe forms of the condition, but new research brings hope.
Activating And Erasing Memory Through Nerve Stimulation
A group of researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, set about proving that they could restore lost memories. In the animal study, they stimulated nerves at specific frequencies, causing the synapses or connections between nerve cells to strengthen or weaken. In doing so, they were able to cause a memory to form, be erased, or be reactivated by the application of this stimulus.6
Blueberries To Reverse Memory Loss
A separate study at Tufts University found that the anthocyanin in blueberries can reverse memory loss. In the study, test subjects were given an antioxidant-rich diet which included blueberry extract. Having blueberries increased hippocampal plasticity, which in turn caused spatial memory to improve.7
Alternative And Integrated Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda offer some centuries-old remedies that have stood the test of time. Plants like Lycoris radiata are popular in Chinese medicine for their ability to improve your memory and cognitive function.8 Medicated ghee (clarified butter)-based remedies are commonly used in Ayurveda to cut inflammation which has been implicated in neurodegenerative conditions.9
Research also endorses the role integrated medicine can play. This approach uses a blend of diet, therapy, and modern and traditional remedies to help reverse memory loss. The four pillar approach sees the intake of popular herbal remedy ginkgo biloba along with brain-friendly vitamin supplements; cognitive exercise and stress-relieving meditation techniques; anti-aging drugs; and hormones.10
Improving Your Ability To Remember
Besides reversing memory loss, you could also stop or slow down the aging of your brain or improve your memory through some easy changes to your lifestyle.
Get Enough Sleep
Research underlines the importance of sleep in preserving memory. New studies find that while your brain in its waking state encodes memories, your sleep state allows it to consolidate these memories. The integration of these into your long-term memory happens in short-wave sleep, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stabilizes the freshly transformed memories. And that’s why missing out on sleep can wreak havoc on your memory.11
Exercise To Expand Your Memory Center
The benefits of exercise are endless, not just for your body but even for brain health. As a study in Neuroscience explains, blood flow to your brain could improve as a result of regular exercise. The test subjects in this instance were primates, but researchers believe this will extend to humans too.12 Even more exciting is the possibility that exercise can cause your brain’s memory center to actually expand and grow by between one and two percent every year instead of the usual shrinking one would expect with age.
Eat Brain Food
Stock up on walnuts, eggs, fish, and other brain-friendly foods and nutrients. According to research, walnuts are packed with omega-3 fatty acids which cut damage to the brain by preventing inflammation. One study found that those who ate a handful of the nuts daily showed improvement when subjected to cognitive testing, unlike those who did not.13 Be sure to get in adequate quantities of all the B vitamins, as well as vitamin D (generated with sun exposure or taken through fortified foods) which helps protect your body against neuroimmune disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. Vitamin B12 found in foods like soy, shellfish, and liver is important for the normal development of nerve cells, the basic building block needed to keep your memory sharp. By getting in enough of the nutrient, you can delay the unwelcome arrival of dementia.14
Practice Memory Techniques
Memory techniques or clever tricks to remember better can also help. For instance, a feature in a Harvard Medical School publication suggests that if you have trouble remembering names you could try saying the newly introduced person’s name out loud as you speak to them, create visuals or imagery to associate with that person’s name, and write their name down in a book/organizer; if you misplace things, try having set places for each set of keys or spectacles so you don’t have to hunt, and be conscious of where you are putting an object as you place it down; if you forget appointments, just write them down or use reminders on your computer or smartphone; and so on.15
|↑1, ↑3, ↑5||Peters, R. “Ageing and the brain.” Postgraduate medical journal 82, no. 964 (2006): 84-88.|
|↑2||Svennerholm, Lars, Kerstin Boström, and Birgitta Jungbjer. “Changes in weight and compositions of major membrane components of human brain during the span of adult human life of Swedes.” Acta neuropathologica 94, no. 4 (1997): 345-352.|
|↑4||Mathias, J. L., and K. M. Mansfield. “Prospective and declarative memory problems following moderate and severe traumatic brain injury.” Brain Injury 19, no. 4 (2005): 271-282.|
|↑6||Nabavi, Sadegh, Rocky Fox, Christophe D. Proulx, John Y. Lin, Roger Y. Tsien, and Roberto Malinow. “Engineering a memory with LTD and LTP.” Nature (2014).|
|↑7||Casadesus, Gemma, Barbara Shukitt-Hale, Heather M. Stellwagen, Xiongwei Zhu, Hyoung-Gon Lee, Mark A. Smith, and James A. Joseph. “Modulation of hippocampal plasticity and cognitive behavior by short-term blueberry supplementation in aged rats.” Nutritional neuroscience 7, no. 5-6 (2004): 309-316.|
|↑8||Howes, Melanie-Jayne R., and Peter J. Houghton. “Plants used in Chinese and Indian traditional medicine for improvement of memory and cognitive function.” Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 75, no. 3 (2003): 513-527.|
|↑9||Glass, Christopher K., Kaoru Saijo, Beate Winner, Maria Carolina Marchetto, and Fred H. Gage. “Mechanisms underlying inflammation in neurodegeneration.” Cell 140, no. 6 (2010): 918-934.|
|↑10||Khalsa, Dharma Singh. “Integrated medicine and the prevention and reversal of memory loss.” Alternative therapies in health and medicine 4, no. 6 (1998): 38.|
|↑11||Rasch, Björn and Jan Born. “About Sleep’s Role in Memory.” Physiol Rev. 2013 Apr; 93(2): 681–766.|
|↑12||Rhyu, I. J., J. A. Bytheway, S. J. Kohler, H. Lange, K. J. Lee, J. Boklewski, K. McCormick et al. “Effects of aerobic exercise training on cognitive function and cortical vascularity in monkeys.” Neuroscience 167, no. 4 (2010): 1239-1248.|
|↑13||Memory Boost From Walnuts, UCLA Longevity Center.|
|↑14||Bourre, Jean-Marie. “Effects of nutrients (in food) on the structure and function of the nervous system: update on dietary requirements for brain. Part 1: micronutrients.” Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging 10, no. 5 (2006): 377.|
|↑15||Preventing memory loss, Harvard Health Publications.|