We remember what is truly important, what is capable of moving us, because it activates the brain regions and hormones in us that will help to keep that memory. A wise mechanism that we can help if we listen to neuroscience.
As we get older, we begin to fear forgetfulness. When we begin to forget common things, what we fear most is that this is the beginning of a serious illness, such as Alzheimer’s. But, although we are all exposed to suffering from some type of dementia, the signs of forgetfulness that appear early even before the age of 50 do not necessarily lead to mental illness.
WHY DOES OUR BRAIN FORGET DATA AND EXPERIENCES?
Forgetfulness has many causes, not always pathological, and forgetting is not always bad. Proof of this is the message of a story by Jorge Luis Borges, Funes el memorioso, which tells the story of a man with a prodigious memory, capable of remembering all the experiences and events of his past life, all the people he had met, all the places he had visited. Far from being a blessing, such a memory was hell for Funes, as it interfered with his ability to think and reason, by continually bringing up multiple and irrelevant memories in his mind. Fortunately, the human brain is not as powerful as Funes’s at storing memories.
The eighty billion neurons in the brain and the multiple connections that are established between them give it a much greater memory capacity than we exercise, since, if we did, we could have problems thinking and reasoning normally, without interference. Even when we are young and healthy, we forget much more than what we remember, even if we cannot appreciate it.
This is because the brain has mechanisms that act as a brake to prevent memory from being loaded with irrelevant information. These mechanisms are based on proteins – phosphatase enzymes that hinder the formation or strengthening of the neuronal connections that constitute the physical support of memory. But even with this brake, there are many things we remember. How is it possible then?
THE LINK BETWEEN EMOTION AND MEMORY
Someone once asked Albert Einstein what he did when he had a new idea, if he wrote it down on a piece of paper or in a special notebook. Apparently, the wise man answered forcefully: “When I have a new idea, I don’t forget it.”
Nothing more true: when something excites us as much as a new and interesting idea, it is almost impossible to forget it. What excites us is not forgotten, and it does not matter whether they are joys or dislikes.
The brain retains these situations because the emotion that accompanies them activates the regions involved in the formation of memories, such as the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex. In addition, the release of hormones such as adrenaline helps to strengthen the memory of emotional situations. And since what excites us are important things, emotions serve so that only what is important is registered in memory.
Sometimes it happens that the memories are available, but they are not accessible, as when we say: “But if I knew, why don’t I remember?”, Or “What have I come to do here?”, Or “I have it in the tip of the tongue ”… In many of these cases, the inability to remember is due to the fact that memory is related to the physiological state of the body or to our external situation.
STUDYING FORGETTING AND MEMORY FROM NEUROSCIENCE
If we study under the influence of a stimulant such as caffeine, for example, it often happens that the best way to remember what we have learned is to return to the same situation, that is, under the influence of the same substance. If not, we can go blank on the exam.
In this case, forgetting, rather than a loss of memory, consists of the inability to access it. That is why we usually remember later what we could not recall at the time of the test.
In addition, the memory can also depend on the environmental context in which we find ourselves, such as when we do not recognize a person if we see them in a different place than where we usually find them, or when we do not remember what we have gone to look for in the kitchen and need go back to the dining room to access the memory. The best way to facilitate the memory is, then, to place ourselves in an organic and environmental context as similar as possible to the original, when we acquire the information.
LEARNING TO REMEMBER: A SKILL THAT CAN BE TRAINED
So how do we learn so as not to forget? The properties of the memories that are formed during learning and their subsequent recall depend on the mental strategy used to generate them.
Some are habits, unconscious, precise and rigid memories, such as knowing how to swim, writing without failures, speaking a foreign language or routine mental calculation. In these cases, repeated practice is the best way to acquire the dexterity and perfection we seek.
But other times we need to acquire flexible memories, capable of expressing themselves in versatile conditions, different from those of the original learning. This is the case of learning a scientific subject, of knowing how to position oneself in space regardless of the starting point or learning to reason and solve complex problems.
TO AVOID FORGETTING, LEARN TO STIMULATE THE HIPPOCAMPUS
To form these memories, it is necessary to activate brain regions such as the hippocampus, which is achieved by prompting mental resources such as comparison, contrast, inference and deduction.
If the hippocampus does not intervene, the brain associations and memories that are formed have a more rigid character, and are difficult to remember if the situation that requires it is very different from the original one.
No memory is negligible, so when we learn something, we must adopt the appropriate strategies to develop the most appropriate memory. In mathematical calculation or to speak a foreign language, for example, an inflexible memory, based on the repetition of experience, suits us best. Mathematical reasoning or biology, on the other hand, require a different, flexible memory, based on contrast and comparison.
THE NEUROCHEMISTRY OF FORGETTING
Unfortunately, forgetting can also consist of the loss of connections between neurons. In older people, the memories most vulnerable to oblivion are the most recent. To avoid this, it is advisable not to neglect, when we reach these ages, the maintenance of memories already formed or in the course of training using resources such as mental review of what we do not want to forget by helping us with annotations. Also, taking care of the health conditions that allow the brain to receive enough oxygen and glucose is very important.
They are simple and proven formulas. As is also maintaining an intellectual activity of all kinds, without expecting miracles or being fooled by chemical or computer products that, although we are not told or silenced by advertising, usually have limited effectiveness to really improve mental capacities.
In any case, a good part of the mental deficit of old age can be made up for with a positive attitude that motivates us to make an effort to stay in shape, both physically and mentally.
KEYS NOT TO FORGET, TO REMEMBER MORE AND BETTER
Taking care of your lifestyle and doing certain practices regularly, your memory will improve. Advances in neuroscience in recent years support this.
1. PRACTICE REGULAR PHYSICAL EXERCISE
Regularly practice physical activities or sports. Even just 30 minutes of cycling or running may be enough to improve reaction time and information processing speed in the brain. Physical activity of all kinds generates a kind of lubricant in neurons that facilitates the functioning of the brain machinery to learn, form memories and remember.
2. AVOID EXCESS FAT IN THE DIET
The caloric restriction in the diet favors most of the mental processes, the memory included.
3. GET ENOUGH SLEEP REGULARLY
Anticipatory sleep prepares the brain to learn, and when it occurs after learning, it enhances the formation of memories, stabilizes them and thus favors memory. Even a one- or two-hour nap after eating is good, although longer periods are generally more beneficial.
4. TRAIN YOUR WORKING MEMORY FREQUENTLY
This memory is what we use to think, reason, plan the future and make decisions . We can help you if we regularly play chess, do crosswords or sudoku puzzles, try to solve all kinds of problems, follow television series trying to remember the plot and the names of the characters involved…
5. PRACTICE REMEMBERING EVERYTHING THAT INTERESTS YOU
Dedicate the downtime you have – while you rest, travel, take a walk or on the way from home to work – to remembering the things that matter most to you and that you do not want to forget, such as the names of family and friends, work or leisure colleagues, important dates, birthdays of each of them…
In short, remember frequently everything that interests you a lot. Practicing remembering is what reinforces memory the most, especially when we get older.
6. ENJOY READING
Read magazines, newspapers or whatever interests you the most Read. Always have a book started and another on the waiting list, and not on time or during vacations, but for a lifetime.
So that you do not get bored, it is very important that the topics you choose are always of your interest and not of the interest of the person who recommends the books, except, of course, that you have similar tastes or that their recommendations usually hit the mark and you trust of the.
Reading is the cheapest and most affordable gym available to exercise the mind in general and memory in particular. Remember that we are only older, but not old, while we believe that we still have things to learn.
7. PRACTICE NEW LANGUAGES
Practice more than one language or learn a new one. The greater capacity for execution and mental flexibility of bilinguals is frequently manifested in life, has been observed in all ages and is preserved much more than monolinguals in old age. Multilingualism slows down aging.
8. LISTEN TO MUSIC AND PLAY AN INSTRUMENT
Also practice music whenever you can. If you play an instrument, do it for a bit each day. The study and practice of music can have a similar effect to language, as it is just another form of it.
9. TRAVEL AND DISCOVER NEW PLACES
Change your mental state and / or place. The evocation of memory depends a lot on the mind being in a certain way and, also, that we are in a place where there are stimuli that help us remember. It is for this reason that we do not remember a person’s name when we see them in a different place than we are used to. When you don’t remember something, instead of trying too hard to remember it, change your thoughts and also your place. It is much more effective.
10. GO SIMPLE
Resort to the simple things, you don’t need more. Don’t waste money on expensive gadgets to improve memory. Use books, newspapers or other media available to anyone in public libraries.
The enriched environments, that is, with many stimuli, and all those mental or intellectual activities that involve effort and challenge are more useful to form good memories and remember that those made with little effort.