Female home care worker helps elderly woman hold a remote control while sitting on a chair.

Memory relationships between the elderly and the not so elderly

Without memories, we have no “life.” Our pasts make our present and lead our futures. Consider how frustrating it is to attempt to recall a name of someone you just met, or try to pull-up that memory of the fun game you played as a child, or develop that picture of a relative you haven’t seen in some years. It is all dependent on your memory!

Memory is the brain function that allows you to recall information that you have either experienced or learned. Without our memories, or even with poor memories, we would lead a life of constant frustration. More specifically, memory is a series of brain functions that allow us to recall items, images, facts, numbers, etc., when we need them. However, our brain does have limits.

I recall (see, I’m using my memory) reading that our brain allows us to store, in short-term form, seven items at a time; such as a telephone number (at least before area codes were required). This simple fact makes it all the more amazing when we hear a memory expert (like the Amazing Kreskin) recall hundreds of names in his audiences as he performs memory feats.

We’ve witnessed this feat many times, and sometimes without the amazement that it truly warrants. For instance, have you ever sat down with one of your care recipients and listen to them rattle off hundreds of seemingly obscure facts from their distant past? I was always astounded when I would have a conversation with an elderly client who would recall a myriad of specific events from his days in WWI or WWII. His long-term memory was so incredible.

So, we have long and short-term memories, of which both are vitally important to each of us. Our short-term memories are important to us for limited periods, as you would imagine. And, our long-term memories provide us with a running history of our life experiences and learning, yet these memories, compared to short-term memories, can require a certain amount of effort to retain. Usually these are based on something meaningful in your life, required for some task (a test), or some emotionally significant event.

In an article published on, here are 10 ways to improve your long-term memory and your memory in general:

1.   Physical exercise. Physical exercise keeps the body healthy and wards off dementia or other memory disorders. Physical exercise also helps in controlling blood sugar which has an effect on the size of the hippocampus, which aids in the retention of memories.

2.   Mental exercise. Doing crossword puzzles, reading, and writing can help delay the onset of disorders such as dementia.

3.   Get quality sleep. It is suspected that neuronal connections are remodeled during sleep, thus it is important to get an appropriate amount of sleep (i.e. minimum 6 hrs).

4.   Managing your stress. During stress, our body secretes a hormone called Cortisol. Too much of this hormone, as in times of over stress, can adversely affect brain function such as memory.

5.   Nutrition. A healthy diet full of fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, etc., can have positive effects on not only our body in general, but certain brain functions, such as memory. Vitamins such as A, B1, B3, B6, B12, and folic acid help to maintain a healthy brain and thus a strong memory.

6.   Focus, concentration, and paying attention. Memories become stored by paying attention to them. It takes about eight seconds of focus on a piece of information to process it through your hippocampus and then into the appropriate memory area. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted if you want to retain what you are attempting to learn and remember.

7.   Involve your senses. We all learn through a compilation of our senses: hearing, sight, touch, taste, and smell. Determine what sense, or combination of senses, allow you to remember something well and focus on that process to remember what you are attempting to lock into your memory banks. For example, I need a combination of actions to remember something well: read about it, see it, and then actually do it.

8.   Memory strategies. Mnemonics are linkages of any kind that help us to remember something. We remember best by associations.

9.   Keeping what you learn locked in. A structured review of everything you are learning will aid in your retention of facts. For example, after learning a fact, recall it for five minutes in the first hour.

10.  Practice, practice, practice. If you are committed to recalling facts, etc., it takes practice to recall those items when you need them. Practice makes prefect, or darn close.

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