Think back to a really vivid memory. Got it? Okay now try to remember what you had for lunch 3 weeks ago. That second memory probably is not as strong but why not? Why do we remember some things and not others?
Why do memories eventually fade?
When you experience something like dialling a phone number, the experience is converted into a pulse of electrical energy that zips along a network of neurons. Information first lands in short-term memory where it’s available from anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes. It’s then transferred to long-term memory through areas such as the hippocampus (see Figure 1 below) and finally to several storage regions across the brain.
Figure 1: The brain and its sections
Neurons throughout the brain communicate at dedicated sites called synapses (Figure 2) using chemicals called neurotransmitters. If two neurons communicate repeatedly, a remarkable thing happens. The efficiency of communication between them increases. This is considered to be a mechanism by which memories are stored long-term.
Figure 2: Synapse between two neurons (nerve cells) through release of neurotransmitter
But how do some memories get lost?
Age is one factor. As we get older synapses begin to weaken affecting how easily we can retrieve memories. Scientists have several theories about what's behind this deterioration. From actual brain shrinkage, the hippocampus loses 5% of its neurons every decade.
There can be a total loss of 20% by the time you're 80 years old, and a drop in the production of neurotransmitters like acetylcholine, which is vital to learning and memory. These changes seem to affect how people retrieve stored information.
Age also affects our memory making abilities. Memories are encoded more strongly when we pay attention. Mental and physical health problems which tend to increase as we age interfere with our ability to pay attention and thus act as memory thieves.
Another leading cause of memory problems is chronic stress. When we are constantly overloaded with work and personal responsibilities our bodies are on hyper-alert. This response has evolved from the physiological mechanism designed to make sure we can survive any crisis.
Stress chemicals help mobilize energy and increase alertness. However, with chronic stress, our bodies become flooded with these chemicals resulting in the loss of brain cells and an inability to form new ones which affect our ability to retain new information.
Low levels of serotonin can make individuals less attentive to new information.
Serotonin is an essential neurotransmitter produced naturally in our body, that is responsible for feelings of well being. High levels of serotonin can lead to improved mood and better focus.
Isolation, which can result in low serotonin is another memory thief. A study by the Harvard school of public health found that older people with a high level of social interaction had a slower rate of memory decline over a 6-year period. The exact reason remains unclear but experts suspect that social interaction gives our brain a mental workout.
Just like muscle strength, we have to use our brain or risk losing it but don’t despair, there are several steps that can aid your brain and help you preserve your memories.
Make sure you keep physically active. Increased blood flow to the brain is helpful for the normal functioning of the nervous system.
Eat well. Your brain needs all the right nutrients to keep functioning correctly.
With StudyBoost we have gathered the nutrients needed for maximum brain function and its ingredients can aid in memory consolidation. These include L-tyrosine and 5-HTP, which are the precursors for Dopamine and Serotonin. Dopamine and Serotonin are essential hormones that play a vital role in brain function and mood regulation. Moreover, dopamine contributes to remembering the information we acquire.
StudyBoost also includes Vitamin C and Zinc, which maintain synaptic activity as well as improve neurologic recovery. All the nutrients found in StudyBoost have a synergistic effect and work together to maximize focus levels.
Finally, alongside StudyBoost, give your brain a workout. Exposing your brain to challenges like learning a new language is one of the best defences to keep your brain out of its sealed box.
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EA; Dunsmoor JE; Murty VP; Davachi L; Phelps. “Emotional Learning Selectively and Retroactively Strengthens Memories for Related Events.” Nature, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25607357/.
Kahn, Itamar, et al. “Functional-Neuroanatomic Correlates of Recollection: Implications for Models of Recognition Memory.” Journal of Neuroscience, Society for Neuroscience, 28 Apr. 2004, www.jneurosci.org/content/24/17/4172.
Yushkevich, Paul A., et al. “Quantitative Comparison of 21 Protocols for Labeling Hippocampal Subfields and Parahippocampal Subregions in Vivo MRI: Towards a Harmonized Segmentation Protocol.” NeuroImage, Academic Press, 14 Jan. 2015, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811915000075.
About the Author
Negar Mousazadeh is a Bsc Biomedical Science student at King’s College London with interests in neuropharmacology and physiology.