Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Memory Changes Are Inevitable as We Age

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Memory Changes Are Inevitable as We Age

Article excerpt

DEAR DOCTOR K: What kind of memory changes am I likely to experience as I get older? Why do these changes happen?

DEAR READER: Many people begin to notice changes in their powers of recall around the age of 50. You may have to rack your brain to remember a name or word that is familiar to you. You may find it increasingly difficult to divide your attention among more than one activity or source of information. And you may get more easily distracted than when you were younger.

You'll notice that different kinds of memory decline with age. These include episodic memory (which stock you sold last year from your retirement account), semantic memory (facts, such as the year World War I started) and spatial memory (such as the directions to a new location). Changes in the brain may be to blame.

Storing memories is a three-step process. In the first step, your brain acquires an experience. It does this by encoding the memory of that experience. That short-term memory is temporarily stored. Then it is consolidated into a more lasting memory. The last step in the memory process is retrieval. To recall a memory, your brain must reactivate the right pattern of neurons.

I think of it in terms of what happens with your computer. You type information into the microprocessor or central processing unit - the "thinking" part of the computer, or "consciousness." That typed information is the "experience." The thinking part of the computer then sends the information to a temporary storage area, random-access memory (RAM). …

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