What is required to successfully remember?
I sometimes play a little game when my mind is unoccuppied with weighty matters. I try to trace back my first memory as a child. When did I become capable of remembering my life.
You really have to be an investigator to attempt this game because the further you go back in time, the more mushy your memory becomes. I've found that visual cues that mark a time period are helpful, specifically the crib because it defines a specific age. My first memory (for now) is being put into my crib without my peach cobbler desert because I'd misbehaved. I must have been about two, I would think.
I had my most bizarre experience with memory only a year ago. When I was four years old, I drowned. My dad discovered me at the bottom of the pool, threw me onto the deck, and I shortly gushed water out of my lungs, coughing and sputtering. I have absolutely no recollection of this event, and only learned about it by chance chatting with my father.
How could I forget such a traumatic event and remember a much earlier trivial event? The mind and memory are strange in the way they work, and we will never fully understand it.
Memory is so important to us as human beings. Aside from daily functioning, our memory is necessary for a concept of ourselves. Who are we if we have no memories?
Life events force you to stop and think about memory sometimes. A good friend of mine suffered a subdural hematoma and incurred minor cognitive memory effects, which motivated my thinking about memory today.
Like my friend, many people confront this type of memory loss, sometimes early in life. The scientific name for the disorder ismild cognitive impairment (MCI), and the UCSF defines it:
by deficits in memory that do not significantly impact daily functioning. Memory problems may be minimal to mild and hardly noticeable to the individual.
However, memory is so essential to our individuality and everyday functioning that "mild" and "hardly noticeable" amount to serious disturbances in our lives. Imagine a struggling writer, for example, who is unable to remember characters and settings.
Symptoms vary widly from difficulty remembering names to disturbances in the flow of conversation with a friend. People with MCI frequently lose things and tend to rely heavily on routine to help compensate for what they cannot remember. TheFolstein test is used as a psychological tool to determine the extent and severity of the impairment.
My goal here is to discover what remedies are available to assist people with MCI and how effective they are. I believe this will help you because most of us have people in your circles that are suffering.
One initial caution is that certain medications can interfere with memory:Valium®, Ativan®, Benadryl®, Tylenol PM®, Advil PM® (both contain Benadryl®), and Cogentin®. This is not a comprehensive list but you can find them on the internet.
MCI can be caused by many experiences, too many to mention here, but it is wide spread enough that it merits exploration. According to the National Academies Press, more than 10 million people in the U.S. suffer from MCI.
Remedies and hope
According to the University of Virginia, there is no known cure for MCI, although some people improve with the use of Alzheimer's medication. But medicine is not generally considered a viable option.
Many websites resort to methods of compensating, like writing notes and strategically placing reminders. However, in the past decade we have discovered a couple of shocks about our own brains:
Depending on the cause of MCI, there may be damage to this normal functioning. However, many with MCI may have tools at their disposal to help improve memory function over time. Our brains grow and adapt over our whole lives.
According to the FDA's website, measures can be taken to prevent and improve MCI's effects. These are rather common sense guidelines, but useful to consider:
I end the list on the idea of stimulation because this is the heart of the questions and debates: can active training be done to maintain or improve memory, especially for people with MCI?
The FDA notes that "some experts" believe that pushing the brain to perform new, complex activities will help spur neural rejuvenation, create new neural networks, and improve the brain's ability to function. These experts suggest avid reading, writing, skill learning, game playing, and developing new hobbies.
The National Academies Press, in their review of the literature, point to the massive amount of material written on cognitive rehabilitation: their conservative estimate is 856 scholarly, peer reviewed articles. My intention to sift through this will be aided by current researchers writing on cognitive rehabilitation.
The research suggests that treatments are simply ineffective:
However, the researchers note that most common cognitive therapies at least do no harm. So, while there is no concrete evidence, the possibility exists that some therapies used by practitioners are effective and definitely not harmful. Specifically, the National Academies point to these beneficial tasks:
The conclusion of the study by the National Academies is that much more research is needed. Most of the studies they reviewed had flaws or were inconclusive.
However, the ambiguity in the findings leaves hope for current remedies such as those mentioned by Discovery:
One final note about the apps for brain training that have become so popular lately. Initially they were hyped as the miracle cure to improve memory and brain power, and later bashed for using poor methods of evaluating data.
My own opinion is that they do no harm, and they may even help. If nothing else, the games are keeping your brain active, which is key.
While research remains to be done, ample evidence and research points us in some directions that can help with MCI. Try the methods out and find ones that work for you. Study up on memory on the internet or in a book. New information is released daily that can be helpful.
The more you know about how your brain works, the more empowered you are. Put yourself in the position of control through education, and be determined to defy those that say memory can't be improved. You can do it! Remember that your brain changes and you grow new neurons daily. Use this knowledge to empower your practice.
You might also enjoy: