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  • Writer's picturePatricia Faust

Now Where Did I Park My Car?!

A few years ago I parked in an airport garage and since I was running late, I just ran from the car into the airport. When I returned to the parking garage I had no idea where my car was. Nothing looked familiar as I searched for my elusive parking space. After looking for what seemed like an eternity, I spotted my car neatly parked between a van and a SUV. It is a horrible feeling to not remember something.

If I was a young adult I would have just felt stupid about all of this. But I was already well into middle age when this happened. It scared me and had my young adult sons concerned about my memory. Forgetting where you park your car can happen to anyone of any age. It says nothing about your cognitive functioning. Are all of our memory slips a sign of cognitive decline? Let’s first differentiate between memory and cognition. Cognition includes remembering and forgetting, as well as, critical thinking, reasoning, attention, imagination, insight, and appreciation of beauty (Staying Sharp, AARP, Dana Alliance). Memory is just one part of cognition.

What exactly is memory then? The concept of memory is complex. There are a number of interrelated processes involved with memory. First, we learn or experience something new. The brain registers that new information, encodes it into nerve cell connections and then stores it for later recall. So memory is dependent on the encoding of the information and the ability to recall the information.

There are two types of memory. Declarative or explicit memory includes memories we consciously recall and describe. These memories are of people, places, and things we experience everyday. The areas of the brain that are responsible for explicit memory are the hippocampus (part of the brain’s memory processing system) and the prefrontal cortex (center for high level mental functions).

The second type of memory is the nondeclarative or implicit memory. Implicit memory is responsible for learning skills and procedures. The part of the brain that takes over these duties is the amygdala (part of the brain’s memory processing system) and the cerebellum and motor cortex (movement-related areas).

There are some changes associated with memory and aging. Our brain slows down and we don’t pick up information as quickly as we used to. Our working memory is weaker. Working memory holds a finite amount of information and is vulnerable to distraction. Our working memory holds information for a short period of time until we can process it for encoding and storage.

Memories we retrieve are stored in long-term memory. Long-term memory does not have any limit to the capacity of memories it holds. It is also not vulnerable to distraction and stays with us throughout our lives. Problems arise when we can’t retrieve those memories when we want them. This is a topic for a future blog.

To be able to hold memory in working and short-term memory status there are a few things we might do, as we get older. We have to put our attention/focus on what we want to remember. In the parking garage I should have looked for markers to direct me back to my car. When you see the markers, signs, buildings, or plants, etc. your brain is cued to remember where you park, where to drive, etc. If you are trying to remember a name, repetition works well. The brain is laying down new connections with repetition. In future blogs I will give you other tips for memory.

You will remember something if it holds meaning for you. Who can forget the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers? If you need to remember something that has no immediate meaning for you – assign meaning. Again, I will share some other tips and strategies for memory.

Our memory shouldn’t suffer significant declines, as we get older. We must approach memory in a different way. We still have our memories tucked away. Our brains are such an amazing organs. Our life story is always with us.

Have questions or interested in learning more?


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