Where do the glasses go?
Surprisingly familiar situation. They put the necessary thing somewhere and cannot find it, and then say to yourself: “Sclerosis!” Young people utter this word with coquetry, and annoyance sounds in the elderly person’s voice.
Most people consider this kind of forgetfulness a sign of age-related weakening of memory, although in this case it is just a lack of attention. And since memory is closely connected with intellectual activity, a person of advanced age may experience a pessimistic reassessment of his abilities, which he associates with the onset of old age.
Is it correct? What actually happens to our memory when the age “exceeds” 40, then 50, 60 and beyond? Is memory impairment consistent with age and how is it related to physical and mental health? Can an older person improve memory and how to do it? I will try to answer the questions that concern people who have reached old age.
First of all, let’s understand what memory is. This short word means an extremely complex system of brain functioning. It includes many biophysical, biochemical and mental processes. There are several different types of memory that, as they say, live side by side, without interfering with each other. Each of them is characterized by specific mechanisms. They “act” in special time modes and are associated with various areas of the brain. At least three memory subsystems can be distinguished: sensory, short-term and long-term.
TOUCH MEMORY holds in our minds a fairly clear and complete picture of the world, perceived by the senses. The duration of its storage in the brain is very short, about half a second. Its purpose is not to remember, but to fix and capture the surrounding world. In turn, sensory memory is divided into iconic (vision), echoic (hearing) and others, respectively, to the sensory organs. Thanks to her, we recognize the smell of jasmine and naphthalene, the taste of chocolate and pepper, the sound of the sea and a train whistle.
SHORT MEMORY is also called working, or operational. That is what we use most often. However, the possibilities of this memory are limited. With its help, only five to seven consecutive units of information are stored, whether it be words, letters or numbers. But it eliminates excess material, and through repetition, the necessary material, including information from sensory memory, translates into long-term. She also takes it out of there if necessary. For example, when we solve a difficult task or remember something important.
LONG-TERM MEMORY is the most important and complex of all. Its capacity is almost unlimited. It stores our experience and knowledge acquired throughout life. In principle, the human brain can hold 10 to the twentieth power of information units. If translated into a language that everyone understands, this corresponds to the information contained in millions of volumes of books.
Our memory can do a lot: memorize material, sort the most necessary and significant, store and retrieve the necessary at a critical moment. However, in the storage system, not pure material of our knowledge and experience is stored and recorded, but its meaning. Simply put, we try not only to remember, but to understand.
In a child, each new concept is built from scratch. He accumulates knowledge, mainly through mechanical memorization. In later years, learning takes on a different character: unknown concepts are acquired by analogy with those that are known. Therefore, the flexibility of perceiving information decreases with the formation of the memory structure. This is connected with the fact that with age it is becoming increasingly difficult for a person to change his belief system. He more easily rejects the new, contrary to his experience.
Stop! We got to the bottom of all questions. One of the main reasons for the restructuring of memory in old age is associated with the accumulation of knowledge and, as a consequence, the development of conservatism in the thinking of a middle-aged person. Paradoxically, but a fact.
Many psychologists and doctors believe that the weakening of memorization in old age is adaptive in nature and to a certain extent improves the structure of memory. After all, the logical and systematic assimilation of the material prevails over the mechanical.
Of course, one should not forget that in elderly people the speed of mental processes slows down, their stability is disturbed, and the mobility of the cerebral cortex decreases. The general mechanisms of age-related changes, of course, affect memory. Specialists of the Institute of Gerontology under the guidance of Professor N. B, Mankovsky spent many years researching in this direction. They showed that in older people the information storage system, that is, long-term memory, almost does not change with age. However, the memory of rarely encountered and complex material is impaired. Memory for visual and spatial information suffers more than for speech. The ability to extract the material that is needed at the moment is weakening, that is, short-term memory is deteriorating.