Memory is not all that it’s cracked up to be

If we are honest with ourselves, for most of us during our lifetime, our memory has never been 100% perfect.

If we are honest with ourselves, for most of us during our lifetime, our memory has never been 100% perfect. Situated mainly deep in the brain in the hippocampus, our memory on occasion has let us down and on other occasions misled us. There have been times when under stress or in a critical situation we have needed to remember a fact or a name or a face, our memory in this time of need had deserted us. There have probably been times when we have sworn black and blue that we remembered an event happening, when in fact no such event occurred. Our memory invented the scenario to meet our need to have this event happen.

Eye witness testimony of recalling an event is notoriously unreliable. The mind and specifically memory does not work like the replay of a video. Because we do not actually recall an event, but reconstruct the event, the reconstruction may not faithfully represent the actual event. Once DNA evidence came into vogue quite a number of convictions have been overturned that were based on incorrect eyewitness identification of the so called perpetrator. The Scientific American reported in 2010 that since the 1990s, when DNA testing was first introduced, Innocence Project researchers have reported that 73 per cent of the 239 convictions overturned through DNA testing were based on eyewitness testimony.

I am not convinced that as we age that our memory and our ability to recall is as bad as it is portrayed in the stereotypical aged person. While as we age there is some loss of neurons, there are so many billions that I doubt that losing a few is going to affect memory that much.

To get into memory at all, a fact or event has to be registered. That is, we have to take particular note of a fact, event, name, face etc. Once we are in our later years, whatever they may be, we have a pretty good idea of what is important to us and what is not. We, over the years, have had to put up with all sorts of information that we did not want or would never use again. Most of us have had to attend meetings, conferences or had conversations and listened to ………what’s the word ? Crap! In our later years we do not have to register information that does not interest us, so we just do not. We will register things that are relevant to us. We concentrate on the things that matter. In any event it is not possible to attend to every event occurring at one particular time no matter your age. Magicians know and use this to deceive us. While concentrating on what we think they are doing, they are doing something else.

Common to all ages, if we are going to register something, then we have to put in into our short term memory before it enters eventually into our long term memory. As with any new information if we do not recall it within 24 hours or then do not use it within the next two weeks, it probably will not be in the long term memory section of the brain and will need to be relearned at a later date if we want to it to be relevant to us.

Once in the long term memory, we should be eventually to able to recall information. The problem with us seniors that first of all we to search through a lot more stuff than younger people and there is always the possibility that we store information on occasion in the wrong place in our brain. You will notice that sooner or later especially if prompted you will eventually bring to mind the fact or event you are looking for.

Interestingly our procedural memory, that is how to do things, is generally pretty good and stays with us forever. Like riding a bike one never forgets how to do this or how to cook a meal.

Serious memory defects as found in dementia or Alzheimer’s are another issue and should not be confused with normal inabilities to recall information. Memory can be affected by a decrease in Vitamin B12 in the elderly. B12 deficiency is most common among older people, people with bowel or stomach issues, or strict vegetarians. The diabetes drug metformin has also been shown to lower B12 levels. You should be able to get enough B12 naturally, in foods like fish, meat and poultry. Fortified breakfast cereal is a good option for vegetarians.

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