For years we have been making memories without even realising it, in fact, it's not until we start having problems remembering things that we consider the process at all.
Not a surprise really, if it ain't broke why should we learn to fix it. In some Dementia's however, the process is definitely broken, but up to a point in the Dementia path, we can relearn the process of how to store memories, allowing us to capture moments for as long as possible, as inevitably at one point we will no longer be able to do so.
To do this we need to look at how we actually make memories, store them and retrieve them.
So there are 5 types of memory, all are reliant on our 5 senses giving us the cue to create a memory of sorts: Smell, Touch, Sight, Hearing and of course Taste.
So the 5 types are:
Working Memory - You've asked that lovely looking person for their phone number but you don't have anything to hand to record it on so you say, 'Don't worry I'll remember it'. You store it here in your short term memory until you can transfer it later. Working Memory can also come in handy when you are out for dinner with friends and are splitting the bill, doing the sum in your head and then disregarding the information afterwards.
Episodic Memory - 'Do you remember when we,' This type of memory accounts for events in our lives with some emotional value. It can also account for personal things that we have done, like knowing what we have eaten today, although sometimes it's quite convenient to forget that we've already had at least four chocolate digestives by 9 am.
Semantic Memory - The meaning of everything. From what a word means through to remembering why that person looks so familiar. This is how we can avoid the blank expression on our face when you hear 'It's wonderful to see you again', as we wrack our brains to remember when we last saw them and what's more who they actually are.
Prospective Memory - The part that is responsible for remembering that an important event is coming up soon, say your wedding anniversary- a good source of memory to keep you from being banished to the sofa at night.
Now how do we actually store these memories. Well it's quite a complicated process but we can simplify it here.
An interplay of our 5 senses provides us with information which we filter as one of the above memory types. This information is converted into something storable, it's encoded if you like and then held in our short term memory until we can decide how to label it for correct storage and recall.
When the encoding process is complete we can transfer this information to the appropriate venue in our long term memory.
This labelling and storage process is what allows us to easily relocate the memory when the time calls for it. Now that we understand what memories are we can learn to hold onto them for as long as possible, and we can understand how Dementia really affects the memory process.
5 Tips for Memory Boosting:
Practice Makes Perfect
Our brain is an amazing tool but if we don't use it there is a high chance we will lose it.
Set aside a minimum of 30 minutes a day to activate your mind. If words are your thing try crosswords, they don't have to be cryptic teasers found in The Times, but if you can do those we salute you!
You pitch your level of difficulty - aim to test yourself not infuriate yourself.
If you are savvy with a tablet or smartphone or just want to give it a go, there are hundreds of brain improving apps out there. We really like Lumosity and Elevate, the basic free versions of both can be downloaded, but there are premium versions which cost money, so be careful when downloading.
The aim of the game is to test your brain agility over several games and build up your score day after day.
Let it go
We need to take the pressure off from time to time, and keeping ourselves calm can really help with this. So take some time to vacate your mind, try meditation and controlled breathing, I know what you are thinking, but it's honestly very easy.
Find somewhere comfortable to sit, it's not compulsory to cross your legs. Rest your eyes and breathe in really deeply. Hold your breath for three long seconds (the Mississippi kind as opposed to the Hide and Seek kind) Then breathe out slowly.
You can repeat this several times, and then just try and think of a calming image, some find gentle music can help with this, some prefer silence and some need visually calming stimulus. Whatever works for you do it. Go on give your brain a break for 10 minutes a day.
Exercise your mind
There are foods that seriously help boost your memory, so much so that we have already written an article on the matter, which you can read here. But to give you the general headlines go to the Mediterranean, I mean if you can actually go to the Med, fantastic send us a postcard, but if not at least eat like you are on the beach or in the vineyard. From oily fish to leafy green vegetables through to eggs and nuts, pick your foods wisely and help protect your memories too.
It's all in your mind
With thanks to Smithsonian, Science Museum, Simply Psychology and Reuters