Sunday, 19 October 2014

How do all our memories fit in?

I've been doing a bit of yoga recently, trying to clear my head, put some good thoughts there and remove some of the worries. This has got me thinking about our thoughts and our memories. What makes memories linger in our brain? I'm not talking about bad memories here, not today. I'm just talking about the good ones, the kind that can be replayed over and over in your head, the kind that can take you to a better place when you're feeling fed up.

What amazes me is that there seems to be no limit to how many memories any one brain can hold. The popular image of a memory is that of a filing cabinet, where each memory is stored away in some kind of sensible order. That's how I like to think about mine anyway and it will come as no surprise to my blog friends that a lot of my memories appear to be filed away under the heading of 'pop songs'. It's not only music that can bring memories to life, though. Smells, tastes, even colours can be evocative of times past.

I remember from my GCE Biology (yes, they were called GCEs in those days before GCSEs had been invented!) ...I remember that memories are stored in the hippocampus but that doesn't help me to understand how it works because the hippocampus is a very small part of the brain. How do all the memories fit in? I also remember learning that the average brain weighs about 3 lbs and 80% of that is made up of water. Mum helped me to revise Biology and we did it so well that a lot of this stuff is still stored in my memory. Why is it not overflowing?

What's more, our memories can be 'jogged'. Go to a reunion or meet up with an old friend and a whole file full of memories can be reopened. You start thinking about things you did all those years ago, things that you'd almost forgotten about, but now the memory has been 'jogged', they're as vivid as if they happened yesterday.

Of course, the bad news is that our memories can start to lose their 'search facility' as we get older. That old chestnut of walking into a room and forgetting why you're there happens to most of us and it's apparently because by the time we reach 50 the connections between neurons in our brains are starting to show their age.

I'm not sure how scientifically effective it is but I'm doing my best to keep my brain active in the hope that it will maintain its full search facility functions for as long as possible. I play Bridge at least once a week and I play word games and do crosswords every day, although the Guardian cryptic crossword is much tougher these days than it used to be - humour me! It is tougher, isn't it?!

What do you do to keep your brain active?

18 comments:

  1. When you start to forget things, make new memories.

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    1. Agreed and we must carry on doing that every single day. It's what days are for :-)

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  2. I assisted a lady with home health care who was in her late 90s, and she only needed the help then because of a bad car accident in her early 90s. Anyway...she was absolutely fascinating to talk to, and I believe her memory was better than mine...and I have a good memory (so far)! Maybe rather than a filing cabinet our hippocampi are more like a flash drive with a whole lot of gigabytes of space, but every now and then they get jiggled just right and we "lose" things....

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    1. Sounds like she was an amazing lady. I'm sure our brains are not really like filing cabinets, especially not the hanging file kind that always used to break and drop the papers to the bottom of the drawer.... on second thought!!!!

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  3. Hi Ros ... I have to say starting my blog and drafting posts covering numerous subjects keeps my brain tumbling away. Since my mother died I've joined the University of the 3rd Age and go to various talks/lectures and visit London museums ... not having children the memory bank is probably slightly different for me ...

    You did study biology well ... I'm sure we had those facts too - but that is not something that's sitting awaiting my brain trawls .. though now you've told me - that's stuck back into the filing cabinet ... which is full of mycelium ... those tiny threads that weave all over the place ...

    It's good to know that you've rekindled the yoga flame - I'm sure it does lots of good ... cheers Hilary

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    1. And I have to say, Hilary, that your blog posts are amazing and crammed with such a lot of information. I can well believe that they keep you very busy indeed. Well done.

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  4. I think the blog is always a good memory jogger and keeps one engaged. I play "Words With Friends" on my phone with several people. Nothing like scrabble to unscramble the brain. And I've downloaded a language app - I'm learning some Italian just for fun.
    do a yoga stretch for me - enjoy!

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    1. I play Words with Friends too and I'm sure it contributes greatly to keeping my brain active.

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  5. I can't do the Guardian cryptic, but can manage the Indie weekend one!! As for snippets - the one thing I recall from 'O' level English was a couple from William Blake:

    I am a sundial and I make a botch
    Of what is done far better by a watch.

    I'm sure there are other nuggets lurking somewhere ... if only I could remember where I put my glasses down two minutes ago, I might even look them up!

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    1. I may well try the Indie cryptic this weekend. Thanks for the tip :-) I have also discovered that the Guardian have a Quiptic crossword online that's easier than their Cryptic one.

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  6. For one, I don't use a calculator. And when I count out change to a customer, I refuse to look at the computer screen for the answer.

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    1. I'm impressed, Shelly. My head doesn't do figures. Words yes, numbers... no way!

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  7. They do say: use it or lose it. I find things like Twitter, interestingly enough, a great brain stimulator. Having to refine a thought down to 140 characters, or coming up with a witty saying or remark makes my brain 'fizz'. I wish more 'older people would use Twitter - it's great for interacting and giving the mind a workout.

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    1. You are the master (or should that be mistress? No different connotation!!) of the Twitter Witties. Love your twitter chats :-)

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  8. I'm still teaching and I think that keeps me mentally agile. Keeping one step ahead of my students keeps me very much on my toes. I'm also studying for my Masters so that's another way, but on a daily basis, I think Carol's got a good mental exerciser - Twitter! If you get into a good bit of 140 character banter, that can be incredibly effective for honing and sharpening the mental skills - and Carol's brilliant at it! I get my buzz from reading hers :)

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    1. Well done you for still teaching. Going in to schools for book visits is as much as my brain can cope with these days!

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  9. It's a perrennial worry that I might lose the plot as I get older, particularly as I saw it happen with my father. What do I do? I write, I walk, I do crosswords, and I try not to worry when I can't remember where I put my - erm - what was the name of that thing? :)

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  10. I find memories wonderful one leads to another and the mind is filled with wonderful things.I play scrabble a lot and find the neurons(anagram in scrabble-nonuser) still work well. Possibly one needs to attack The "Grauniad"
    crossword every day and then it would be easier.I used to do it regularly but only occasionally now and find it difficult. Petra.

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