Staying Sharp For Dummies
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To improve your memory, you need to know what memory is and isn't. You need to understand the facts about your memory and discard the myths.

Some of the following facts may surprise you:

  • Your memories are constantly reshaping throughout your life. They aren't snapshots of information, frozen in time. Throughout your life, you go through all sorts of changes: You mature, learn from previous mistakes, and even get tainted by unfortunate experiences. Your perspective changes over time, and the lens you use to look back at your memories colors those memories. Your brain is complex and always changing, which affects the way you look at your memories. Those memories are subject to modification by everything new you experience and learn.
  • Memory is a skill that you can cultivate and improve upon, no matter what your age, intelligence level, or socioeconomic class. Memory isn't something that you have or don't have. It can't be lost or found like a flash drive. However, it's dependent on your brain structure and especially the connections between different parts of your brain. If you experience brain damage, your memory can be affected (depending on what parts of your brain were injured).
  • Your entire brain works together as one system. Each memory has input from a wide variety of different parts of your brain. Memories aren't stored in one place in your brain. Your brain codes memories as a system of different units. Some areas of your brain have unique talents in coding memories in special relationships. Whereas others areas code in words. These brain areas work together, so when you're trying to remember a 1969 Volkswagen Beetle, you remember the shape with one area (the right hemisphere) and the words Volkswagen Beetle with another area (the left hemisphere).

The more dimensions and parts of your brain you can involve in a memory, the more easily you can remember it later. Remembering a 1969 Volkswagen Beetle is easier than remembering a 1969 Plymouth Valiant because of the shape of the Beetle and the word Beetle give you a visual context.

  • Your brain possesses several key parts that play a major role in forming the foundation of your memory. The hippocampus is the key part of your brain that moves short-term memories into long-term storage. The short-term memories you move into long-term memory depend largely on three factors:
    • Your attention: Generally, a measure of short-term memory
    • The meaningfulness of the information: The more meaningful or relevant the information, the greater your chances of remembering it
    • How well the memory fits into what you already know: A foundation of prior memories helps with new learning
  • Your memory depends on your attention. Your memory simply doesn't work unless you're paying attention. But when you're paying attention, your brain is capable of extraordinary mental gymnastics. So paying attention helps you stay sharp.

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The American Geriatrics Society (AGS) is a nationwide, not-for-profit society of geriatrics healthcare professionals dedicated to improving the health, independence, and quality of life of older people.

The Health in Aging Foundation is a national non-profit organization established in 1999 by AGS to bring the knowledge and expertise of geriatrics healthcare professionals to the public.

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