Brain games promise to preserve our mental function and even our memories. Although these games have recently become popular, the growing popularity does not mean that they are as effective as once believed.
Although the debate of the effectiveness of brain games won’t be discussed here, the latest research isn’t promising for the brain training games. In fact, they failed a big scientific test.
With brain training games looking less promising, where should you look to better your memory and mind? Recently, studies have shown that memory and hearing are much more connected than initially thought, and this idea is extremely crucial in the discussion of memory. There is even research that frequently shows the importance of sharp hearing to a sharp memory.
In order to understand how important treating hearing loss is, we must review how human memory and hearing works.
How human memory works
The process of human memory is one of the most complex processes in the human body. Adding to its complexity, it is extremely widespread across the brain. There is not one location where memories are made and stored.
Memory storage occurs across the brain with electrical and chemical signals involving many neurons and even more connections between them. Because of this, memory is not nearly understood completely.
We do understand, however, that the creation of memories occurs in three different stages: encoding, storage, and retrieval. These stages explain how memories are processed and ultimately kept in our brain.
Encoding is the stage that starts off the memory storage process. This initial stage occurs in response to stimuli around you in the environment. This stage allows you to filter out unimportant information and focus on what’s important. If this filtering did not occur, your brain would try to store every stimulus you were exposed to, which would lead to your memory would filling to capacity very quickly.
The next stage is the memory storage. This stage involves your short term memory’s ability to hold information that you are processing. Your short-term or working memory can hold up to seven pieces of information for about 20-30 seconds. Although this doesn’t seem like nearly enough mental storage capacity, there are several techniques to expand the amount your memory can hold. Two of these techniques are chunking (breaking long strings of numbers into groups, for example) and the use of mnemonic devices.
After the information is stored temporarily in short-term memory, it either fades away and is lost or becomes stored as long-term memory. Attention, repetition, and association are the three keys to moving information from short-term to long-term memory. In order to better your memory of any piece of information, you must:
- Become more focused and less distracted on the information.
- Expose yourself to the processed information more often and for longer amounts of time.
- Associate the information with memories you already have stored.
Memory is the final stage. This stage is the process of recalling, at will, information stored in long-term memory. In order to easily recall information, it must first be properly encoded and stored.
How growing older affects memory
We must not forget that the brain is plastic. This plasticity refers to the ability of the brain to change its structure in response to new stimuli. This characteristic can have both good and bad effects.
As we age, our brain changes in more than one way. It loses connections between cells, loses cells, and it actually shrinks in size. These changes both structurally and chemically can impair not only our memory, but also worsen our general cognitive function as we age.
On the positive side of plasticity, our brain has the ability to create new connections as we age, learning new things and strengthening our memories simultaneously without much deliberate effort. In fact, studies have recently shown that simply mental stimulation and exercise can keep our brains sharp well into our 80s.
The main cause of memory decline as we age is lack of use. This is why keeping our minds active in addition to learning new things is extremely important to healthy aging. If we leave our mind without any stimulation, it will essentially disintegrate and lose its ability to function well.
How hearing loss affects memory
When it comes to hearing loss, can it actually worsen our memory?
Studies have shown that hearing loss can impact your memory greatly, and it’s easy to see why. We’ve already shown above that your ability to successfully store information in long-term memory is dependent on your ability to pay attention and properly process the informaiton you are receiving.
In order to understand, let’s take a look at how this works on a daily basis. For example, say you’re having a conversation with someone. With hearing loss, two things are happening at the same time when you are simply talking to someone. One, you’re physically unable to hear part of what is being said, so your brain cannot properly encode the information in the first place. Later on, when you try to recall the information that you attempted to store, you simply can’t.
Second, because only a part of the information is being encoded, you now are forced to devote mental resources in order to figure out meaning through context. In the struggle to understand meaning, most of the information is either lost or encoded incorrectly.
People who have hearing loss also experience the brain’s ability to reorganize itself. With reduced sound stimulation, the part of the brain responsible for sound processing becomes weaker and the brain then recruits this area for other tasks, changing the natural way the brain works.
Improve your memory, schedule a hearing test
The solution to improving our memories as we age is clear from the discussion so far. Firstly, we must keep our minds active and sharp. By challenging ourselves and learning new things, we are able to better our mental ability.
Secondly, taking proper steps to improve hearing loss can help preserve your memory. Hearing aids help us properly encode information, avoiding the distortion and loss of information, which can then help us remember information during conversations. In addition, the enhanced sound stimulation that hearing aids produce ensures that the areas of the brain that deal with memory stay strong.
So disregard the craze of brain games—learn something new and interesting and schedule your hearing test to ensure that your hearing is the best it can be.