Age-related memory loss is a major concern for just about everyone. Not only can it be a warning sign of illness or disease, but it can also disrupt every aspect of your life. Memory loss can lead to missed appointments, it make you forget where you put your keys or purse, and even cause problems in relationships. Unfortunately, it also seems to be a very common part of the aging process.
If you have problems with age-related memory loss, or are concerned about it for the future, read on. In this article we break down a recent study on how the brain waves you make during sleep affect your memory and how control them to support a sharper memory.
The Link between Memory and Sleep
There are two general types of memory, short term and long term.
Your short term memory is a temporary bank that holds your experiences and knowledge. It holds memories for a limited amount of time, and can only hold a small amount of information. If you want to remember something for a long time, the information has to be moved into your long term memory. Your long term memory can hold an unlimited amount of information for an indefinite amount of time.
The link between sleep and memory is not fully understood, but most researchers agree that sleep plays a vital role in maintaining a sharp memory. Studies suggest that parts of the human brain actively work to process and transfer short term memories into your long term memory bank (a process called memory consolidation). This means that if you don’t get enough sleep, or the right kind of sleep, your brain may not be storing memories as efficiently as it could be.
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Brain Waves and Your Memory
A recent study found that good memory may be connected with specific brain wave patterns.
Researchers who were trying to discover how the human brain turns short-term memories into long-term memories enlisted 20 young adults for the study. The participants learned 120 words and then went to sleep with electrodes on their heads to monitor their brain waves. The researchers were particularly interested in the interaction between two different types of brain waves that occur during sleep. One type of brain wave is known as slow waves, and they occur every second, and the other is known as sleep spindles and occur more than 12 times a second.
These brain waves naturally interact, and when they coincided it resulted in excellent recall of the target words. In fact, the more in sync these brain waves were, the better the participant’s recall was. This suggests that the synchronization of these two types of brain waves is absolutely vital to the brain’s ability to turn short term memories into long term memories.
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Age-Related Memory Loss and Brain Waves
This research was later repeated on a group of 60-70 year olds. The researchers found that their brain waves were less synchronized than the younger group, resulting in lower recall. And similar to the younger group, their performance on the memory test was determined by how well their brain waves meshed.
The researchers also found a reason for the lack of rhythm in seniors’ brain waves. A specific part of the brain that’s associated with deep sleep naturally atrophies with age. This atrophy is not associated with dementia or other diseases that cause memory loss, though it can be worse in people who suffer from these diseases. But in otherwise healthy seniors it’s actually a normal part of the aging process and is probably why so many people have trouble with their memory as they age.
This may seem like bad news, as if there’s nothing that can be done to reverse or halt the atrophy or the resulting memory loss. However, this information suggests new avenues for treatment including the use of electrical or magnetic pulses to bring the brain waves back into synchronization.
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Fighting Age-Related Memory Loss
It might be natural that parts of your brain atrophy with age, resulting in memory loss, but there are still things you can do to slow the process. Take control of your memory and your brain health with the following ideas:
- Socialize as often as you can. This will give you a boost of feel good hormones which wards off depression and other mental issues that can further affect your memory.
- Stay mentally active by learning and trying new things regularly.
- Get regular exercise.
- Make sure you get the right amount of sleep every night.
- Eat a healthy, varied diet. If you have trouble getting the nutrients you need, try taking supplements that will give your brain and body a boost.
For optimum health, now and as you age, you need to keep your memory in the best shape possible by exercising it and giving it the nutrients to function at its best. And if you’re concerned about age-related memory loss, make sure you see your doctor for a full exam as soon as possible.
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