The Key is to Take A Proactive Approach
By Elizabeth Sukys-Rice, MSW
The Alzheimer’s Association notes that 50 percent of seniors over the age of 85 will develop some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. We have all encountered the senior whose snail’s pace driving or slow maneuver through the grocery store left a younger bunch on edge. Both brain and body slow as a natural result of aging, and two paths seem most common among the aging during that process: one that is riddled with physical challenges, the other being a path of good physical health. On both paths there is ultimately and inevitably memory loss. The question is how much and how quickly will the memory impairment take effect on one’s cognitive abilities?
“The Truth About Memory Loss”
Memory loss starts in the late twenties when cells in our brains begin to deteriorate, although many people assume it happens in our sixties or later years. There is normal memory loss and then there is dementia. The two are very different conditions and processes. Short-term memory storage happens in the hippocampus, and long-term memory storage occurs in the cortex region of the brain. The hippocampus helps the cortex store memories.
Hermann Ebbinghaus, the pioneer of forgetting, conducted the first study of memory, and was responsible for starting our exploration of the brain and of memory. His study listed words that he was not familiar with, and he studied the words and recorded how many he could remember. He was able to increase his ability to remember words by the amount of times he studied the words. When studying information over a period of days, it is important to note that the more days a person can study, the longer they remember the information. This is true for the aging brain as well as the young brain. In a healthy aging brain, an individual maintains their long-term memory, attention span, and verbal knowledge. In fact, verbal knowledge can even increase during the aging process and the vocabulary can increase as well. In addition, the aging brain has a tendency to remember positive memories more than the younger brain.
Although a person can learn and store information as they age, it can be more difficult to store memories because the brain actually shrinks, especially in the frontal cortex. The connectors in an old brain also decrease due to aging. The brain loses speed in processing and the formation of new memories. Older people, when studied in a cross sectional study, were unable to compete with younger people, due to less activity in their brain or what is known as under-recruitment. The phrase, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” comes to mind. Although an aging brain is certainly capable of learning, it is surely more difficult to do so in those later years.