This series of workshops are for people who are concerned about, or experiencing memory challenges and their caregivers. Each week’s topic is designed to explore and enhance our understanding of what might affect our ability to remember, what our individual experiences are, as well as strategies and resources. This week we are reprinting an article from 3 years ago.
Most people talk about memory as if it were a thing they have, like bad eyes or a good head of hair. But your memory doesn't exist in the way a part of your body exists -- it's not a "thing" you can touch. It's a concept that refers to the process of remembering. Your baby's first cry...the taste of your grandmother's molasses cookies...the scent of an ocean breeze. These are memories that make up the ongoing experience of your life -- they provide you with a sense of self. They're what make you feel comfortable with familiar people and surroundings, tie your past with your present, and provide a framework for the future. In a profound way, it is our collective set of memories -- our "memory" as a whole -- that makes us who we are. In the past, many experts were fond of describing memory as a sort of tiny filing cabinet full of individual memory folders in which information is stored away. Others likened memory to a neural supercomputer wedged under the human scalp. But today, experts believe that memory is far more complex and elusive than that -- and that it is located not in one particular place in the brain but is instead a brain-wide process. So, what is memory? Memory is a mental process of storing and retrieving information. Information goes in transported by multiple systems in our body. Then the information is stored away. How well your memory works depends on how well you saw, heard, and understood the experience and then how the memory was stored and then how easy it is to retrieve it. What seems to be a single memory is actually a complex construction. If you think of an object -- say, a pen -- your brain retrieves the object's name, its shape, its function, the sound when it scratches across the page. Each part of the memory of what a "pen" is comes from a different region of the brain. The entire image of "pen" is actively reconstructed through a web of neurons by the brain from many different areas and each of us processes information uniquely. Neurologists are only beginning to understand how the parts are reassembled into a coherent whole. Information flows from the outside world through our senses: our eyes ears tocuh smell and taste. Only the things that catch our attention go into our short term memory. For example you might not remember the annoying cooler sound or lights being on but you may remember that I have a unique hat on my head. We keep short term memory for about 30 seconds, and our short term only holds about 7 things. Through some unknown way some memories that are important like hot things burn, or the names of our children get put into our long term memory where they can last possibly forever.
Ideas to consider: