Memory is a fickle thing and it becomes moreso as you grow older and have more things in your life to remember. The brain is the most complicated organ in the body and much is still not known about how memory actually works.
The hippocampus is the part of your brain that processes your memories, but they are actually stored in different parts of the brain such as the visual cortex, the language area and the motor cortex. Scientists have described memory to be like a filing cabinet, which is able to access certain files (or memories) when needed.
Your memory is selective. As an example, if you meet somebody new, your memory will decide whether that information has to be saved or not, and if it is deemed important, it will be stored for future use.
Because memories are located in different parts of your brain, if you sustain an injury, you may only lose certain parts of your memory, while the rest remains undamaged. This is also known as selective amnesia.
You have different types of memory; long-term and short-term memories are coded and stored in different ways, in varying parts of the brain. Scientists haven’t managed to decipher all the implications yet, but this complex storage mechanism will also serve as an extra layer of protection against losing all your memory in case that you have an accident or injury.
There are numerous diseases and other problems that can affect your memory. They include Alzheimer’s, dementia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), strokes, brain injuries, accidents, drug and alcohol abuse and the mere fact of getting old.
The medical community strongly recommends that you exercise your brain as much as possible. For example, doing simple things such as solving crosswords, jigsaws and other puzzles helps to create extra neural pathways that can replace the ones that may get blocked due to illness or accident.
If you have any sort of trauma to your head, your doctor advises you to immediately see him, so that he can run several tests to be certain there is no damage. The doctor will ask you a set of questions to see if your memory has been affected. They will generally be a mix of personal and general knowledge questions. Even simple things like “Who is the President of the United States?” could be on the question list.
If you don’t know the answers, then it is time for a CT scan. This is a picture of the brain that will help the doctor determine whether damage has been done and what treatment may be needed. You may have to relearn some things if your memory is affected due to injury.
If you have Alzheimer’s or dementia, you can’t fix the memory that has been lost. The good news is that sometime soon it may be possible to do so. Your memory may also be affected by alcohol and / or drug abuse, and it is questionable whether that can be repaired. However, you must stop abusing before there is any hope of memory recovery.
Scientists will continue to study the way memory and the brain works, and who knows what may be learned down the track. For now, do everything possible to protect yourself from accident and injury, so that you can keep your memory for as long as possible.