Brain training games promise to preserve our mental function and, in addition, our memories. Because staying mentally sharp as we grow older is a goal for us all, these types of games have become extremely popular in recent years.
These games have recently been under fire as they have been proven to be less effective than promised. The effectiveness of these games won’t be discussed here, but the latest research does not seem as promising as what was previously believed. The games have actually failed very important scientific tests.
Now that these games are not as helpful, where can you turn to strengthen your memory and mind? There is a strong connection between hearing and memory that has been proven to be crucial when considering the ability to remember. In fact, research has proven over and over that healthy hearing and a healthy memory are strongly related.
We must think about how human memory works and how treating hearing loss is one of the best ways to give your memory a boost in order to understand the true significance of these systems.
How human memory works
There is not one single area of the brain we can point to as being the one location where memories are kept, which creates an unclear understanding of how human memory works. It is actually spread across all areas of the brain and has been proven to be extremely complex.
Memories are created and stored across the brain with signals, both chemical and electrical, that involves billions of neurons and trillions of connections between these neurons. Because of the complexity of memory and how the brain works, memory is not nearly understood.
Despite much of the confusion that surrounds memory, we do know that the creation of memories occurs in three stages: encoding, storage, and retrieval.
The first stage is referred to as encoding. This occurs when you pay attention to some stimulus in the environment. This stage helps you filter out insignificant information and allows you to focus on what’s important and what you actually want to store. Because the brain has a certain capacity, without filtering, the brain would try to store every piece of information and would quickly fill up.
The next stage after encoding is the memory storage. Your short-term memory lasts for about 20-30 seconds and can hold up to seven pieces of information. Although this does not seem like a lot of information, there are ways to expand your mental capacity. There are techniques such as chunking (breaking long strings of numbers into groups) or by using mnemonic devices.
Information stored in short-term memory has two ending results. One, the information fades away, or, the information becomes stored as long-term memory. In order to transport information from short-term to long-term memory, you must utilize attention, repetition, and association. In addition, you can better your memory of any single piece of information as you:
- Take away distractions and focus more on the information you want to store.
- Frequently expose yourself to the information and for longer periods of time.
- Associate the new information with previous information that has been stored.
Lastly is memory retrieval. This stage occurs when you are able to willingly recall information stored in long-term memory. When the information is properly and successfully stored, it will be easier to recall it later on.
How growing older affects memory
How growing older affects memory
In order to understand the true impact that aging has on memory, we must keep in mind that the brain has a characteristic called plasticity. This means that it can change its structure in response to new stimuli. This can have both negative and positive effects.
As we grow older, our brain does in fact change which affects our mental ability. The brain loses some cells, loses some connections between cells, and actually shrinks in size. These structural and chemical changes can worsen our memory and worsen our general cognitive ability as we age.
However, the plasticity of our brains can positively affect our brain, allowing us to create new connections as we age. This allows us learn new things and helps us strengthen our memories at the same time. In fact, studies have actually shown that exercise and mental stimulation can improve our memories and keep them sharp well into our 80s.
It boils down to lack of use; this is the main cause of mental decline. That’s why keeping our minds active and exposing ourselves to new things is an extremely important part of healthy aging.
How hearing loss affects memory
Can hearing loss actually affect our memory? That is the question that is raised as we examine these processes.
Studies have proven that the loss of hearing can negatively impact your memory, and it’s clear as to why. We’ve already shown above that your ability to store information in long-term memory depends on your ability to pay attention. And in order to pay full attention, you must be able to physically hear what is being said.
For example, let’s say you’re having a conversation with someone. With hearing loss, you’re simply not able to hear part of what is being said, so your brain is never able to properly encode the information. Later on, when you need to recall the information, you can’t because it was never successfully stored in the first place.
Because you’re only hearing part of what is being said, you have to utilize mental resources to trying to figure out meaning and context. Filling these gaps and pieces of information that you missed uses parts of the brain that should be used for other things. This misallocation of resources leads to most of the information being distorted or lost.
To top it off, it has actually been proven that the brain tends to reorganize itself in those with hearing loss. Because hearing loss leads to less sound stimulation, the part of the brain responsible for sound processing becomes weaker and the brain then recruits this area for other tasks.
Improve your memory, schedule a hearing test
The solution to improving our memories as we age has been made clear thus far. Firstly, we need to keep our minds active. This can be achieved by challenging ourselves and learning new things on a daily basis. A little physical exercise can go a long way as well.
Secondly, is taking the proper steps to improving our hearing. This is just as important as keeping our minds sharp. Because hearing aids can enhance sound stimulation, these devices can help us to better encode and remember information, especially during everyday conversations. The enhanced sound stimulation to the parts of the brain responsible for sound processing makes sure that these areas stay strong.
So leave the brain games in the past— instead, learn something new that interests you and schedule your hearing test to make sure that your hearing is the best it can be.