The one thing in life we think we can keep forever. Memory is what we remember and gives us the capability to learn and adapt from previous experiences as well as to build relationships. The process of encoding a memory begins when we are born and occurs continuously. No matter what your brain is processing what is happening around you and storing it in that big brain of yours.

In physiological or neurological terms, memory is a set of encoded neural connections in the brain. It is the reconstruction of past experiences by the synchronous firing of neutrons that were involved in the original experience. Because of the way in which memory works it is perhaps better thought of as a kind of a giant jigsaw puzzle that takes hours to build, rather than in the traditional manner as a collection of recordings or pictures or video clips, stored as discrete wholes. Our memories are not stored in our brains like books on library shelves but are actually on-the-fly reconstructions from elements scattered throughout various areas of our brains.

Memory is distantly related to learning, by which we acquire knowledge of the world and modify our subsequent behavior. During learning, neurons that fire together to produce a particular experience are altered so that they have a tendency to fire together again. For example, we learn a new language by studying it, but we then speak it by using our memory to retrieve the words that we have learned (however going based on memory for a language will still be a struggle). Thus, memory depends on learning because it lets us store and retrieve learned information. This ability of humans to call on past memories in order to imagine the future and to plan future courses of action is a hugely advantageous attribute in our survival and development as a species.

There are many different strands of memory. Short-term memory is where you can remember the past 10 minutes. Implicit memory is sometimes referred to as unconscious memory or automatic memory. Procedural memory, which is a wing of implicit memory, is a part of the long-term memory responsible for knowing motor skills. While implicit memory requires little if any effort to recall, explicit memory, requires a more concerted effort to bring the surface. Semantic memory includes things that are common knowledge, such as the names of states, the sounds of letters, the capitals of countries, and other basic facts that are not in question. Then finally their episodic memory is a person’s unique recollections of a specific event or an episode.

As we age, subtle changes in memory occur naturally as part of the aging process. These changes often go unnoticed, but at other times can be disturbing to ourselves or others. There are a number of things that can cause problems with memory or make normal age-related changes worse. Sometimes changes in memory might be due to a medication side effect or an existing or developing health problem, such as depression, anxiety, sleep problems, heart disease, infections in the brain, brain tumor, blood clots, head injury, thyroid disease, dehydration, or vitamin deficiency. However there are options to help improve our memory.

One thing to try is to meditate. Meditation can help with memory. During meditation, our brains stop processing information as actively as they normally would. (This helps with concentration) Another thing to try is to exercise. The benefits of exercise are numerous, but for the brain, in particular, regular exercise has been shown to improve cognitive consolidation process occurs, it makes sense that without enough sleep we’re going to struggle to remember the things we’ve learned. Even a short nap can improve your memory recall.

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