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Doctor\'s column: DOWN MEMORY LANE.

Have you ever wondered how you manage to remember a list of items to buy when you go grocery shopping? Or how you can recall all that information during an exam? The ability to generate new memories, store, retain them in the brain and recall them later in life helps us to interact with the environment.

WHAT IS MEMORY?

Memory refers to our ability to acquire, store, retain and later retrieve information and past experiences in the human brain. The major processes that are involved in memory are encoding, storage and retrieval. In order to form new memories, information must be transformed into a usable form, which occurs via the process of 'encoding'.

Once information has been successfully encoded, it must be stored in memory for later use. Much of this stored memory lies outside of our awareness most of the time, except when we actually need to use it. The retrieval process allows us to bring stored memories into conscious awareness. Memory can be thought of in general terms as the use of past experience to affect or influence our current behaviour. It is the ability to remember past experiences, and the power or process of recalling to mind previously learnt facts, experiences, impressions, skills and habits. It is our storage of experiences kept in our brain, either for a short period of time or a long period.

TYPES OF MEMORY

In 1968, it was proposed by Atkinson and Shiffrin, the stage model of memory outlines three separate stages of memory: sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory.

Sensory Memory

During this stage, sensory information from the environment is stored for a very brief period of time, generally for no longer than half a second for visual information and 3-4 seconds for auditory information.

Short-Term Memory

Short-term memory, also known as active memory, is the information we are currently aware of or thinking about. Most of the information stored will be kept for approximately 20 to 30 seconds. While many of our short-term memories are quickly forgotten, attending to this information allows it to continue on the next stage -- long-term memory.

Long-Term Memory

Long-term memory refers to the continuing storage of information. This information is largely outside of our awareness, but can be called into working memory to be used when needed. Some of this information is fairly easy to recall, while other memories are much more difficult to access.

ORGANISATION OF MEMORY

One of the ways of explaining how memory is organised is through a model known as the semantic network model. The model proposes that certain triggers activate associated memories. A mem-ory of a specific object may activate past memories about things related with that object. For instance, seeing a car that reminds you of an old car your father used to drive.

MENTAL DISORDERS THAT AFFECT MEMORY

Can there be mental disorders in the memory system? Memory disorders can range from acute to chronic. They occur as a result from neurological damage to the structures of the brain, therefore, delaying the storage retention and recollection of memories. Memory disorders can be progressive, like Alzheimer's or Huntington's disease, or immediate, like those resulting from traumatic head injury.

As we humans age, the chances of experiencing deterioration (decline) in memory are quite likely due to our health and lifestyles.

IMPROVING YOUR MEMORY

Here are some tips taken from the American Psychological Association website (APA) on how to improve your memory:

-Take mental snapshots.Good memory is actually good learning, say rehabilitation experts. That means forming a strong association with new information as you learn it.

-Systematically take note of things. When you put down your keys, for instance, take a mental snapshot of them lying next to the fruit bowl on the kitchen table.

-Train your brain to remember.People in the early stages of memory loss can benefit from simple memory training, research suggests.To learn a new name, for example, use 'mnemonic devices' that link the new information with familiar information. If you meet someone named 'David Brown,' picture him drenched in that colour as you're introduced.Another training technique is one called 'vanishing cues'. If you can't remember a name, write down any letter of it that you can remember. Then fill in more and more until your recall kicks in.This training works by bypassing the faulty areas of the brain. Instead, you're training new areas of the brain to take over.

-Take advantage of technology. A paging system, for example, can help people remember appointments or other important dates. And a specially programmed personal digital assistant can help guide users through complex tasks.Technology does have its limits, of course. For one thing, you have to remember how to use it or even that it's there for you to use in the first place.

-Keep your spirits up.Memory problems can affect mood. Exercise and mentally stimulating activities can help.

Hashil al Hatmi Assistant psychologist & career counsellor Al Harub Medical Centre. For more information on this topic, email your queries to Hashil at health@apexmedia.co.om

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Publication:The Week (Muscat, Oman)
Article Type:Column
Date:May 28, 2015
Words:855
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