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10 myths about memory: dispensing with these common misconceptions about how we learn and why we forget may help you maximize your memory abilities.

Are you afraid you're losing your memory? It's probably nothing a few facts about memory won't cure.

"Misconceptions about memory are still common in the general population, despite the advances in scientific understanding about how memory works," says William Falk, MD, co-director of the Geriatric Neurobehavioral Clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital. "These notions can lead to unnecessary fears, especially as people get older. In fact, only a small proportion of the population develops significant memory problems associated with brain disease.

"Occasional memory lapses are a perfectly normal part of aging. Everyone misplaces an item or forgets a name from time to time. Knowing the real reasons why these lapses occur and what can be done to avoid them will help put memory problems in perspective."


These 10 misconceptions about memory are so common that many of us may have come to believe them. Here's the truth behind the myths: Myth #1: Your supply of brain cells dwindles over a lifetime. You may lose nerve connections and form new ones as your brain responds to new knowledge, but most regions of your brain maintain about the same number of neurons all through your life.

Myth #2: Memory gets worse as you age. Many seniors retain a sharp memory all their lives. Others may experience changes in memory ability with normal aging, but most of these changes are minor and can be compensated for with simple memory strategies (list-making, mnemonic techniques such as acronyms and rhymes, etc.). Research shows that maintaining a healthy lifestyle, challenging your brain with lifelong learning, and engaging in stimulating work and active socializing increases your chance of staying mentally sharp as you age.

Myth #3: All people are born with the same memory capability. All memory abilities are not created equal--there is a wide range of abilities among normal individuals.

Myth #4: Everything you learned is buried in your brain somewhere. All memories are subject to forgetting, although weaker memories are more likely to fade than strong ones. The brain is malleable and adaptive, and it changes throughout life. As new information is learned, new nerve connections form while others disappear, taking old memories with them.

Myth #5: Forgetfulness is an indication that your brain is not functioning properly. Normal forgetting is a natural process that serves to keep minor information from cluttering up the brain. Memory traces that are not called up from time to time gradually are discarded, freeing up space in the memory banks for new information. However, forgetfulness that interferes with normal functioning may be a symptom of more serious problems that require medical evaluation.

Myth #6: If you are worried about your memory problems, you probably have Alzheimer's disease (AD). Actually, people who suffer from AD are less likely to recognize their condition than their friends or families. Your memory problems may be annoying, but unless people close to you are concerned about your forgetfulness, your memory loss is most likely within normal ranges.

Myth #7: Memory can't be improved by training. It's possible to learn strategies to improve memory performance. These usually involve techniques that help you process and store information in an organized manner, so that it is accessible when you need to recall it.

Myth #8: A memory that is easy to recall will probably also last for a long time. Ease of recall (fluency) relates to a memory variable called retrievability, while the length of time you remember something is related to another component of memory, stability. It is how often a memory is repeated that makes it more stable and long-lasting, and not how easily we can recall it now.

Myth #9: Trying hard to remember will increase your ability to remember. If you don't use proper memory skills to fix information in your memory, you may not remember well no matter how hard you try.

Myth #10: To remember, you must believe that you can remember. You can remember well whether you're sure of yourself or not, providing you put in the concentration and effort necessary to commit information to memory.
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Publication:Mind, Mood & Memory
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2006
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