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Mental and physical brain stimulation promotes ability to form new memories as you age

Brain stimulation

(NaturalNews) The human brain is a fascinatingly complex organ that we still know relatively little about. In fact, some scientists admit that we know almost nothing about how the brain processes information. Equally as mysterious is how the brain changes as we age, a process that seems to affect everyone differently depending on a variety of factors including lifestyle, genetics and the environment.

With more than 15 years of experience treating a wide variety of brain conditions including brain tumors, epilepsy, movement disorders, neuralgia and adult hydrocephalus, Dr. Guy M. McKhann II, M.D., Florence Irving Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery at Columbia University Medical Center, is an expert on the human brain.

Naturally, he's authored several books on brain science, one of which focuses on the brain's behavior as we age. Keep Your Brain Young, written by McKhann and Marilyn Albert, Ph.D., Director of the Division of Cognitive Neuroscience in the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Director of the Johns Hopkins Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, examines the way new memories form in older people. The following is a snippet from their book:

Different Kinds of Memories

These stories make it sound as if memory is all one thing, but it is not. The problems that can occur with memory depend a lot on what type of memory you are talking about. The biggest difference in types of memories is between old memories and new memories.

New Memories vs. Old Memories

If someone learning something new is exposed to it only once, whether or not the information sticks will depend upon many factors. These include whether the new information is important, whether it is associated with something already familiar, and whether or not the person is paying attention.

The part of the brain that is essential for learning and retaining new information is a small seahorse-shaped area called the hippocam-pal region (from the Greek hippocampus meaning "seahorse"). The hippocampus is involved when someone is actively learning something new.

Once the information is well learned, however, it is actually stored in a different location, the part of the brain called the cerebral cortex. Thus, someone remembering things that happened many years ago is retrieving them from the cerebral cortex.

Certain diseases of memory make this distinction very clear. In the early stage of Alzheimer's disease, where the damage is focused on the hippocampus, the difficulty is in making new memories, but old memories are preserved.

An Alzheimer's patient at this point can remember past events quite well, but may be totally unable to learn anything new. In contrast, the disease in its late stages damages many parts of the cerebral cortex, and memories for past events are disrupted.

Emotions also affect how well a person remembers things. Their impact is powerful in situations that are particularly pleasurable, dangerous, or upsetting, where vivid memories persist for years or sometimes even a lifetime.

For example, those of us who are old enough can remember precisely what we were doing when we first heard that President Kennedy had been shot, where we were, who we were talking to, maybe even what we were wearing.

The same phenomenon will occur in relation to the attack on the World Trade Center. Memories of events with particular emotional or historical importance are also likely to be well entrenched because you think about them many times, reinforcing their memory circuits in the cerebral cortex.

Memory for Skills and Memory for Facts

Memories for skills are stored differently in the brain than are memories for facts. Riding a bicycle, hitting a golf ball, or dancing, are skills that, once learned well, are with us even after long intervals. These skills can be preserved in people who have difficulty learning new facts. A patient of ours has a memory problem that makes it impossible for him to continue to practice law, but he can and does play golf quite well, three or four times a week.

However, he cannot fill out his scorecard or keep score for others; someone else has to do that. The current thinking is that memory for skills such as the motor acts required to play golf or tennis are stored throughout the brain, in areas different from memory for specific details that keep changing such as the score or even the names of who is playing.

To learn more about how the human brain behaves as we grow older, pick up a copy of Keep Your Brain Young here.





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