Senior Citizen's Guide digital books
Senior Citizen's Guide to South Jersey

What is Memory?

Memory is the ability to store and retrieve information. It has three components: sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. Sensory memory is stimulated through the five senses and makes sensory impressions. The sensory memory passes important information on to the short-term memory. Short-term memory represents conscious thought. Information can stay here for only a short period of time. Long-term memory is our storage area or memory bank. Information can stay here for a few days to a lifetime. We use this memory bank to recall information gathered over time and to process data.

Remembering is defined as learning and storing information so it can be retrieved at some future time. Successful remembering consists of placing information into the long-term memory and retrieving it when the information is needed.

Many factors can affect our memory. Stress, anxiety, depression, loss, and grief take its toll on our ability to retrieve information. Physical conditions such as fatigue, poor nutrition, illness, vision, and hearing problems can also have a negative impact. Additionally, some medications and high use of alcohol can trigger memory problems.

All of us will experience some memory difficulties at times during our life based upon the factors just reviewed. So how can we compensate for these changes? First we all need to exercise regularly, even if is just a simple walk around the block. It is important to have our eyes and ears checked for vision and hearing disturbances. If our senses are impaired, our short-term memory is not being fed. Also, routinely review your medications with your doctor. This includes all of the herbal and over-the-counter medications you take on a daily basis. Lastly, there is something to be said about doing memory exercises such as crossword puzzles, word, games, etc. Remember: if you don’t use it, you will lose it!

So when does memory loss become a problem? If your memory loss is beginning to interfere with your normal activities of life, you need to seek medical intervention. You may begin to find that your ability to use words and work with figures becomes impaired. You should to be concerned if your ability to problem solve is impacted. It is also problematic if your reasoning and judgment become impaired. If you or your loved one notice these changes and see fluctuations in your mood and personality it is important to seek medical intervention. Remember, some of these problems may be reversible. Or, you could also be suffering from a progressive decline in mental function that is more severe than age-related mental difficulties, especially if the changes begin to interfere with your daily activities and social relationships. It is important to understand that the earlier help is sought, the greater the possibility that decline can be delayed.

In closing, here are some general tips for remembering:

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