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Neurohacking - Tutorials
Written by NHA   
Sunday, 05 February 2012 12:46
Article Index
Neurohacking Tutorial 8 - Imagination, Memory and Prediction
Neuroanatomy of Memory - Structure and Function
Everywhere and Nowhere
How Memories are Made
What Happens if Things Go Wrong?
Core Skills for Memory Health and Improvement
Imagination and Prediction
NHA Guide to Methods & Technology
The Most Important Bits To Remember
Hacks & Exercices
Notes, References & Answers
All Pages


 

 

What Happens if Things Go Wrong?

 

Understanding the nature of memory

It is important to be aware of the limitations of all human memory because they often go unnoticed. False memories are not unusual; in fact, they are impossible to define, because in real life what is ‘true’ in one circumstance is no longer true in another; for example someone who was 'a bit of a twit' in our memories of 1997 may be 'a really cool dude' in our memories of last week, or a food that was 'really good' when we had an iron deficiency is not necessarily really good now that we don't), so memory is dynamic –that is to say it is updated in the light of our current knowledge, context, expectations and experience.

Memories evolve. Falsities creep into almost every mundane recollection but only some of them become apparent (such as when you are sure you remember putting your phone in your bag, but it isn’t there). Memory does not record real events like a videotape, it re-creates the past, producing a version of events that makes most sense to us from our current perspective. Even long term memories may in the end bear little resemblance to what actually happened originally. This 'evolution' of the truth as we see it is a normal and necessary part of any healthy intelligence maturing and grasping a broader understanding of reality.

Memory is limited by two factors, and we bet you already know what they are.

Wrong input and nonuse.

 

Some reasons why memory networks aren’t used enough:

There can be many causes for memory networks being underused, and varying consequences. Here are the most usual:

 

Early experience -Some sensorimotor programming is hard wired (a good example of this is our ability to blink as an object heads rapidly towards the eye, even if we haven’t consciously seen it), but most is learned, and early bad habits can work against us.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, lack of the correct behaviors to build memory networks in the first place is the main reason for having a poor memory! [No matter! –It’s repairable]. Being made to “keep still” as a child probably does more harm to the early development of memory than anything else. It makes sense that to develop sensorimotor and spatial skills, we need to move about in space and experience things with our senses, and if we didn’t get to do this adequately when small, our memory will be compromised.

 

Nasty or nice

Another area of difficulty arises whenever adults try to force anxiety-based associations on children and ignore their own sensory appraisals. Surviving and thriving is what intelligence is all about, and a lot of memory is therefore dedicated to sensory sign and pattern recognition (because it works really well for finding food and avoiding predators, so intelligence is unlikely to discard it). Young humans begin to recognise and remember “nasty” or “nice” sights and sounds, textures, expressions, smells and tastes; they register as ‘nasty’ or ‘nice’ long before we know what all their sources are called, which is greatly useful for survival. (And this is also a basis of ‘biological morality’ –when intelligence is healthy it ‘likes’ things that are good for its current circumstances and ‘dislikes’ things that are harmful.)

If this is subverted, the resulting adult has difficulty making decisions, as they have been taught that their own opinion is not valid and they must seek assurance from others in order to do so. This is very disabling.

Wrong use causing nonuse

Interesting thing to consider: everyone tested under the age of four is able to learn and remember perfect pitch. There are no home-educated amusics (amusia is the inability to discriminate pitch), but almost all those who went to school have developed an overactive N5 at the expense of N2 and have consequently lost this ability. If you went to school, be aware that you are more likely to have less than optimal spatial memory and find it harder to sing in tune. You were not born tone deaf however and the ability can be regained once we start balancing up the networks and putting in some practice with correct input.

If you have this problem you may have a poor spatial memory and sense of direction and/or could have difficulties learning sensorimotor tasks such as dancing, swimming or driving. If we didn’t have much early exposure to music or musical skills, that can also affect the efficiency of our spatial memory.

 

The brain not getting what it needs –This is one of our golden rules for a good reason. Lack of sleep, dreaming, nutrition and exercise are another major cause of poor memory performance. You need neurochemicals to make memories, and many of them are made from nutrients in foods. If you don’t eat the right foods or get enough sleep, you can’t make them.

 

 

Peer pressure and lack of confidence –There are many reasons for imposed self-limitations; perhaps you attended a school or hung out with a group where being ‘clever’ was seen as “uncool”, or perhaps you were told by teachers or employers that you were a slow learner or, (like Einstein), would “never amount to very much”. The brain takes on board whatever it hears, and naively believes it to be true. Sometimes this is habitual self-deprecation. –Tell yourself that your memory is crap and sure enough, your unconscious mind will strive to comply with exactly what’s expected of it!

 

 

Medication, chemicals & drugs –Some types of medication can cause memory difficulties. This is a common side effect, for example, with sleeping pills. Anything that interferes with dreaming will make it harder for you to keep memories long term. Something you learn today could be gone again next week or tomorrow. Different medications may also react badly together to cause changes in memory function.

Alcohol is particularly bad for memory, especially if binge drinking, and anesthesia for an operation can cause some memory loss. Cannabis and alcohol are notorious for short term memory loss when used in excess. Persons taking long term steroid treatment for inflammation will also develop memory problems (and depression) because of increased cortisol (see later).

An excess of iron especially in the neonatal period can cause memory deficits in the resulting adult. The antidote to iron excess is sodium butyrate. [65]

Apathy -The main reason for memory decline after age 23. Giving up and reducing life to a soap opera, never bothering to learn anything new or take any interest in anything outside our everyday routine 'known zone' will cause memory decline as well as reducing other abilities whenever we do it. Despite popular belief, memory need not decline with age at all!

Inability to pay attention/concentrate –If you can’t pay attention to what’s going on here and now sufficiently to perceive it in the first place, you may blame your memory when really it has no fault!

To quote Sensei Labrat, “If skunk fart, why blame tiger?” -Always try to trace the causes of any poor performance starting from the bottom up. If you think your ‘memory’ is bad, first think about your interest/motivation levels, anxiety levels, distractions and how sensitive you are to them, and remember that absent-mindedness can also be caused by trying to do too many things at once.

 

Blocking (The failure to recall a fact or name that you feel is ‘on the tip of your tongue’) is a recall problem that can be caused by any of the above, by sudden trauma, or by wrong use.

 

Underactive left hippo –will give us a tendency to have a fine short term memory, but have difficulty hanging onto information in the long term. We may particularly notice we’ve forgotten stuff after sleeping.

 

 

What happens if these memory networks are used wrongly?

There are many ways to use memory networks wrongly too! This can really slow you down, particularly when learning something new. Here are the most usual possibilities:

 

Anxiety –Along with depression, the # 2 reason for a permanently poor memory, mainly because high cortisol cuts off blood supply to the frontal lobes and stops us concentrating. In addition to preventing new memories being formed, when anxious we may notice that our recall is poorer and we are less able to deal with anything complex.

When people are anxious they find it harder to take in information, because their working memory is bombarded with all kinds of anxious thoughts, which take up valuable processing time. Some degree of mental arousal (stretching = stress) is important to motivation as we know, but chronic stress (straining = anxiety) can overwhelm working memory and paralyse the memory system.

 

Anxiety damages the hippo, leading to shrinkage of cells and their death. Cortisol depletes hippo cells of glucose, and as a result they become hypersensitive to glutamate. This burns them out and prevents new ones developing by decreasing BDNF [a chemical needed for cell growth and survival and the maintenance of connections between cells]. In a nasty double-bind, hippo cells release glutamate themselves when short of glucose.

 

In long-term low level chronic anxiety, the entire hippo reduces in size. The effects of tiny anxieties we may not even be consciously aware of can build up blood cortisol levels to cause this problem over time, so it’s important to remember to practise the relaxation response to get rid of them regularly.

Once we've got anxiety under control, the hunted becomes the hunter. If we feel uncomfortable with something, or notice body changes associated with cortisol, we go hunting the reasons why, armed with a clear perspective. We make a mind map about it, or notes, we figure out what we are associating the event or thing with, try out different hacks to stop it, and so on. Taking responsibility for being in control gives us the self confidence to analyse our own behavior objectively as well as subjectively, and take steps to change it.

 

 

An overactive ‘danger’ side or underactive ‘benefit’ side amygdala occurs to the extreme in paranoia. Instead of screening for legitimate dangers, it assumes everything is dangerous and often more important or more meaningful than reality warrants. Obviously this can lead to wrong input as it tends to distort memories into anxious ones as they are being made. In milder cases, recall will become more selective, tending to remember depressing events more than cheerful ones, as well as putting a slant on perception of current experience as being ‘mildly worrying’.

Depression –Is another significant cause of memory problems, both taking in new memories and recalling existing ones. Even relatively mild depression can cause a poor neurochemical state. If the individual is frustrated, worried or preoccupied with sentimental or miserable thoughts, this can significantly affect attenton, concentration and memory. Depression causes changes in specific neurotransmitters in the brain involved with both mood and memory, resulting in state-selective recall (this means that when in a depressed state, one can only access depressing memories –a bit of a catch-22.)

 

Trauma & 'repression' –Sometimes memories may be so unpleasant that they become difficult to recall. This used to be thought of as ‘repression’, but scientists now know that such memories have not been assimilated properly in the first place. Wrong weighting and association can also cause involuntary memory recall or ‘flashbacks’ of traumatic events, commonly known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD].

 

Source monitoring error -Results in making false memories, this occurs when congruous perceptual and reflective processes are disrupted, either by limited encoding of source information or by disruption to the judgement processes used in source-monitoring (for example with wrong association). High anxiety levels, depression and damage to relevant brain areas are examples of factors that can cause such disruption and hence source-monitoring errors.[57]

 

There are three major types of source monitoring: external source monitoring, internal source monitoring, and reality monitoring, all of which are susceptible to errors.

 

External source monitoring errors -memory failures on discriminating between external sources, such as events happening in the world surrounding us. An example of this would be determining wrongly which one of our acquaintances said something funny or rude.[57]

 

Internal source monitoring errors -memory failures on discriminating between internal sources, such as our own memories making a mix up between what we thought and what we actually said.

 

Reality monitoring errors -memory failures on discriminating between internal and external retrieved sources. An example would be confusion about whether we witnessed something happening in real life or saw it in a TV program, whether we saw a ghost or projected an image of one, whether we view a hallucination as being inside our head or outside in the world, whether something happened in real life or if it was just a vivid dream or wishful thinking. This is the most usual area of errors.

 

The frontal areas of the brain (N6) as well as N3 are implicated in source monitoring errors. They poccur much more frequently in patients with frontal lobe damage.[57] There are many processes that occur in the frontal regions that are important for source monitoring; these include circuits linked with the hippo that encourage feature binding and structures that play a role in strategic retrieval. Processes which promote congruous association both concretely (physically) and abstractly (cognitively) during encoding and retrieval, are important to source memory.

Source monitoring errors are sometimes called misattribution. Suggestibility can also cause this –someone else- parents, acquaintances or teachers for example, trying to convince you that things happened in a certain way may cause you to ‘remember’ them that way even though the information is wrong. Personal beliefs can also cause misattribution; if we believe that an event is unlikely we are less likely to believe or remember that it occurred.

Bias –Revising our memory of a situation to make it fit what we believe, think or feel now. When we need to do that on purpose because we discover we were previously mistaken, that's fine, but we don’t want it happening to memories by accident and out of context. Some things should remain labelled ‘a bad idea’ regardless of what mood you are currently in.

 

Beware of thinking, “oh, that wasn’t really so bad” before you try a stupid thing out for the second time –have you biased your memory of what ‘that’ was really like, because you’re in a great mood now? It works the other way round, too. Are you pulling up depressing memories associated with something or someone and ignoring the happy ones, when feeling a bit down?

 

 

Overactive front networks –particularly N5, can cause us to forget sensorimotor stuff. You may have experienced this when doing something more or less automatically from sensorimotor memory, (like playing a song, doing a dance, driving a car, riding a bike) and all of a sudden you start thinking consciously about how to do it and you forget what the next move is and muck up. People often say “My mind went blank” in such an experience. You can sometimes induce this conflict on purpose by trying to remember the lyrics to a song you know without mentally singing the song. If you can do this easily without any conflict, you may have an overactive N5.

 

 

Pregnancy & hormonal changes –Many people experience temporary memory changes during pregnancy, these may be associated with hormone changes as they are rarely permanent. Such change is normal in the adjustment of homeostasis to support an extra life, and is not cause for concern. If memory changes occur with symptoms such as tiredness or nausea, lifestyle adjustments can quickly help things back into balance.

 

 

Acute physical damage –A blow to the head or a whiplash injury can affect memory, so can disease and infection. Such changes are not usually permanent, although you might want to take a neuroprotective if recovering from such an event.

 


Problems with individual aspects of memory

While most people think they have either a "pretty bad" or a "pretty good" memory, in fact, most people are fairly good at remembering some types of things and not so good at remembering others.

If you have trouble remembering specific things -- assuming there is no physical damage -- it's usually not the fault of your entire memory system but an inefficient component of just one part of the memory process.

    Problems with receiving

    If you've forgotten something, it may be because you were distracted during input or because you were having trouble receiving it (for example, a sexy call from a partner during a lecture, a noisy building site outside, a lecturer who mumbles or is too quiet, a seat at the back where you couldn't really see, or a problem with your own senses can all cause lack of reception). You may not have really forgotten anything at all -- instead, the information may never have gotten into your memory in the first place but went, as the saying goes, "in one ear and out the other" .[58]

If the information is something the unconscious finds boring, pointless and emotionless, it will tend to ignore it even if the conscious mind thinks its important. If you're trying to read a dull business report in the middle of a busy airport, you may think you're remembering what you read, but you may not have effectively saved it in your memory. Information has to be congruous in order to be taken seriously, so if the unconscious can't see how something relates to reality, it tends to ignore it. This is not a fault of your memory, it is a problem of wrong input. The brain is not getting what it needs, the mind is idling and it's bored.

     

    Problems with perceiving

    Particularly a problem with learning new information; if you've ever tried to remember something one time and couldn't, but then later you remember that same item, it could be that there was a mismatch in association between percept cues and the concepts you were searching for. In other words there were not quite enough ‘points of similarity’ between the known and the unknown. If this happens to you when studying, it means that you simply don’t have enough bits of basic information yet to make a coherent memory. Carry on seeking input until you do.

     

    Problems with encoding

    The most common problem for encoding is lack of sleep and interruption of sleep unnaturally. Waking up to an alarm clock is starting the day with a cortisol rush before your memory has finished defragging, and everything left over may well be lost. This slows learning right down, by degrees that correlate with the amount of sleep lost.

    Alcohol, junk food and drugs can interfere with any of these processes, so you have to be aware your memory may be compromised when under the influence of anything. You should also be aware of ‘state dependent learning’ –for example an item originally remembered when drunk can be recalled more easily when drunk (in the same neurochemical state originally associated with it). Likewise, a memory originally made when you were feeling happy will return more easily when you're happy.

Medications and substances that interfere with dreaming will prevent encoding and consolidation.

 

    Problems with consolidation

    On learning new subjects or techniques, lack of 'staying power' (tenacity, determination, stamina, duration) is the biggest cause of problems with consolidation. People read something or watch a demonstration once, then never go back there or consider it out of context.

Practice makes perfect; how often have we heard that? We have no difficulty understanding this from experience in terms of learning concrete skills, but people seem to have more difficulty understanding how it works with abstract information or our mental skills themselves. This is a bummer, as it causes us to lose valuable potential in developing our abilities.

The formula is the same -you learn a mental skill or improve an ability by practice. You don't need to take time out to practice many skills if you take the initial time to incorporate new habits into your lifestyle. For example every time we take a journey we can incorporate spatial memory exercise. Every time we look at or post on a forum, we can practise communication under core conditions. That's the fastest way to progress -making good habits a part of your everyday life by fitting them in to the 'big picture' and understanding how everything you change in your life in the here and now is affecting your own ability in the future. Get into the habit of stretching and relaxing your mind wherever you can, and you won't need to set aside time for exercises.

     

Problems with retrieval:

The most common problem in retrieval is failure to remember where we put something we use all the time, such as shoes, coat, keys, pens, lighters and small bits of personal tech. Often, we fail to pay enough attention to where we place these things when we discard them as ‘no longer needed today’. We must make an internal image of where we are putting them, or we won't be able to remember their location the following morning. But failure to pay attention is just one possibile cause; another is that you may have registered an inner picture, but failed to retain in RAM what you registered. And another is that you may have retained it in RAM but are unable to retrieve the memory accurately.

Therefore, if you want to stop forgetting where you left things, you will have to work on making sure that all three stages of the remembering process are working properly. Another handy trick is to cultivate the automatic habit of always leaving things in a particular place when you've finished using them (not easy if you have a weak N4, but practice makes perfect) : )

 

Problems with reconsolidation

Sometimes the memory will fail to add new information to old in reconsolidation. For example, say you knew someone who was a violent drunk, and all your early memories of their behavior are unpleasant. One day they discover neurohacking and over the next few months they turn their lives around and become a gentle, creative, happy drunk. Months later again, they are still happy and creative but no longer drunk.

If your memories of them consistently 'miss out' the recent behavior, even though you have experienced it (rather than just heard about it), there is some problem with reconsolidation. Such problems generally crop up with retrograde amnesia, but much more common is incongruous association involving some sentiment. In the latter case, consciously reminding yourself of such changes and considering how great they are can weight the new information to avoid disregarding it.

If you find you can only remember selectively (for example, only bad memories about a person or place, rather than a mixture of good and bad, which is usually the case) you should check yourself for depression. If you catch yourself doing this, deliberately call up some good memories associated with the person or place (even if they are only the fact that you learned and became wiser from the experience.)

For cells that fire together to wire together in reconsolidation, it has been discovered [73] that The entorhinal cortex receives the information from areas around the brain and then passes the information to the hippocampus. If the entorhinal cortex is disabled or sparse, the linking of memories to what is currently happening is difficult.

 

Memory Warning Signs –cutting problems off at the password

Whether it’s caused by wrong use or non use, if memory degrades the obvious problem is that we’ll forget things, but what you maybe don’t realise is that we will also forget that we forget things. Early memory loss is so hard to detect subjectively precisely for this reason –a faulty memory forgets that it is faulty! The first symptoms that we usually notice are spatial –not being able to remember where we put something, or where somewhere is, and because this is noticeably inconvenient we tend to realise, if it happens often enough, that our memory is not performing as well as it did...but way before that, it’s likely that we’ve been forgetting things and not even realising it. We all have forgetful phases and days, but thinking “Where did I put that?” all the time indicates a loss of where the memory is stored as well as the loss of an item in real space.

Forgetting where you parked or where you left personal items is most often completely normal. It's known as "everyday forgetting," and it's so common because it involves things we do every day and usually don't spend too much time paying attention to.

Of course, while most people experience everyday forgetting quite often, a few people have a true organic problem with memory that may need attention. -How do you tell the difference between "normal" forgetting and a more serious problem with memory?

The following are common warning signs that memory problems may be more than everyday forgetfulness and should therefore warrant a medical evaluation as well as improvement exercises. (We give some 'where to get help' tips right after this section):

  • Anterograde amnesia - Inability to remember ongoing events after the incidence of trauma or the onset of an illness.

  • Emotional/hysterical amnesia - Ongoing memory loss caused by psychological trauma (usually a temporary condition).

  • Lacunar amnesia - Ongoing inability to remember a specific event (may be a traumatic event)

  • Korsakoff syndrome - Memory loss caused by chronic alcoholism

  • Posthypnotic amnesia - Ongoing memory loss sustained from a hypnotic state; can include inability to recall events that occurred during hypnosis or information stored in long-term memory (Should be a temporary condition)

  • Retrograde amnesia - Inability to remember events that occurred before an incidence of trauma or the onset of an illness.

  • Transient global amnesia - Repeated incidents of sudden memory loss that can last from minutes to several hours; various causes.

  • Procedural Memory problems that affect job performance or interfere with your everyday functioning

  • Difficulties with language or declarative memory, such as frequently forgetting simple words or substituting inappropriate words

  • Spatial disorientation in familiar locales or in familiar situations

  • Confusion about time of day, month, season, or decade. Confusion about the name of the day today or the actual date is not indicative of a problem unless constant, but confusion about whether it is for example day or night, summer or winter, January or September, is serious.

  • Working memory problems can be indicated by suddenly decreased or unusually poor judgment; if you find yourself starting to make more bad decisions, working memory may be in trouble, or connections between N6 and other frontal networks or the CC (Corpus Callosum). Anxiety is the most common cause.

  • Memory problems accompanied by other symptoms such as extreme fatigue, loss of interest in activities that are typically enjoyed, rapid or unusual changes in mood, agitation, listlessness, problems with balance and coordination, headaches, vision problems, numbness, shortness of breath, or chest pain; should be considered serious.

It's important to keep in mind that there are a variety of factors that can cause memory problems, from stress and depression to vitamin deficiencies and circulatory problems; most memory impairments do not signify the onset of Alzheimer's disease! That's why a thorough medical evaluation is worthwhile if memory problems are out of the ordinary or cause concern. Once the underlying cause is determined, it can often be treated, and the memory problems remedied as a result. As we all know, some of the most common lifestyle factors and medical problems can also cause memory impairment.


How to Get Help
If you're concerned about problems with memory, get a clear and detailed diagnosis as soon as possible. You could discuss it with a medical doctor, who can give you in-depth tests to evaluate your memory and/or refer you to a psychologist or other specialist who can give you a battery of tests for memory, problem solving, counting, and language. Odds are, you'll be completely reassured after the tests show that your memory is more or less just about the same as everyone else's. We’ve included one such test in the assignments later in this tutorial.

If your results suggest there may be some memory loss, a doctor or specialist will still need to ask you a lot of things, because s/he will want to rule out physical causes of memory problems, such as alcohol abuse, drug use, sleep disorders, head injury, or any vascular problem such as a stroke or hardening of the arteries.

So if you really want to find out what’s happening, you have to go in there ‘straight’ and/or be honest about anything you are taking, including prescribed medication. A doctor also might want to check for untreated diabetes or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Be prepared to give them full details about all medications, herbs, or supplements you take if you want an accurate diagnosis, since many drugs and supplements and infections can affect memory.

In addition, they may order tests of blood and urine or a brain PET or MRI scan to help rule out brain disorders. A scan may also show signs of any changes in the brain. It may be necessary to have another scan at a later date to see if there have been further changes in the brain.

Once you have a clear diagnosis you can decide how to tackle the problem, but the sooner you get a diagnosis, the better.

If any doctor shrugs memory problems off as ‘normal age-related decline’, change your doctor. If you can’t, start practicing memory exercises and check if changes in your lifestyle have led to a lack of new input. Time to take up a hobby? Try neurohacking : ) It’s an indoor pursuit with no heavy lifting.

Even when memory problems do have a physical cause, all is not lost. Learning and practicing memory skills can be helpful.

 

Aging and memory.

A great deal of absolute bollox is written about aging and memory. In a healthy brain, there is no need for any loss of ability at all, and we should remember to bear this in mind when reading about those whose brains are not healthy (eg, most people). Like it or not, medical statistics are based on 'most people', and consequently what is in actuality dysfunction becomes thought of as 'normal'.

NHers are not normal, thank goodness. As we get older, we know that memory problems can only increase due to either disease (which is usually attributable to lifestyle factors) or the long term effects of either non-use or wrong use (which are always attributable to lifestyle factors). We saw earlier in these tutorials that as we learn and remember, our brain doesn't change its overall size or grow millions of new batches of nerve cells -- it's the connections between cells that grow denser as we learn. Our synapses are reinforced, and cells make more and stronger connections with each other. But if we fall into habits of non-use or wrong use, these synapses begin to falter, which begins to affect how easily we can retrieve memories and learn new things. Obviously the longer we do this, the worse our memory will become, which is why memory loss is associated with aging. It doesn’t have to be!

Studies have shown that many of the memory problems experienced by older people can be lessened -- or even reversed. Studies of elderly populations show that people are able to make significant improvements in memory when given rewards and challenges.

Evidence from animal studies suggests that stimulating the brain can stop cells from shrinking and can even increase brain size in some cases. Studies show that rats living in enriched environments with lots of toys and challenges have larger outer brains with larger, healthier brain cells. And animals given lots of mental exercise have more dendrites, which allow their cells to communicate with each other. Research has shown that, in our later years just as at any age, a stimulating environment encourages the growth of these dendrites, while a dull environment impedes it.

A major discovery [60] was that of the molecular “recycling plant” that maintains the coherence of memories over time. With non-use, cellular density reduces as unused receptors literally drop off the synapse. These are picked up on the dendritic spines of neurons (which contain ‘recycling plants’), and reattached only if they appear to be needed; otherwise they are moved to an area where use is more frequent. Individual memories (and cognition in general) rely on millions of receptors continually being reinstated. The chief researcher stated: “The system is simultaneously dynamic and stable. If these receptors don’t get recycled, you see a gradual loss of synaptic function that is associated with reduced cognitive ability.”

In the very early phases of Alzheimer’s disease (often before any other symptoms become apparent) the dendritic spines gradually lose their ability to transport and recycle the receptors. Non-use leads to deterioration, and causes major cell loss in the hippo (N3) and the ACG (Anterior cingulate gyrus) in the front of the brain (N6) that leads to a drop in the production of acetylcholine.

Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in neurons alter apoptotic (cell death) signaling, protecting a broad range of neurons, and may block the apoptosis triggered by beta-amyloid fragments that contributes to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. If so, nicotinic agents may prove useful in the treatment of this and other neurodegenerative conditions.[59]

Acetylcholine is vital to learning and memory. If it’s not used, the hippo either fails to develop or loses 0.5 percent of its nerve cells with each passing year -- for a total loss of 20 percent (the equivalent of more than one whole network!) by the time we reach our 80s. In addition, the brain itself shrinks in overall density of connections with non-use. If we never fully developed networks in the first place, degradation is faster.

So the important point to remember is that in many cases, an older person's brain may be less effective not because of a structural or organic problem but simply as a result of lack of use!

A second problem is lack of oxygen. Many people grow less physically active with age, especially if they haven’t kept their bodies fit. If most of their mental exercise was achieved when up and about doing things, new pursuits that engage the mind must replace this input. If it doesn’t, we can lapse into non-use.

This also applies to anyone suddenly deprived of exercise, such as after an accident or injury or if you are a ‘newbie’ wheelchair user. If you’re not physically healthy, lack of exercise can cause deterioration of blood flow to the brain as your body ages. You need to look after your circulatory system. Supplement with omega 3, drink alcohol in moderation and do some gentle exercise (for example yoga) plus breathing exercises for the benefit of your heart & lungs as well as your brain if your mobility is limited. You can start a low-GI diet at any age and will still notice the benefits.

Of course, other things can happen to the brain to cause or speed up decline. You may have inherited some unhealthy genes, you might have been exposed to poisons, had unfortunate accidents, illnesses, or perhaps you ate a bad diet or drank too much for many years. All these things speed up memory decline. But lifestyle matters much more in the here and now than the past, and it’s never too late to turn our behavior in a direction that improves things.

Don't be paranoid. The older people get, the more they tend to get anxious about their memory. If you’re forgetting stuff at age 20, you probably don't think a thing about it, or you blame it on being too stoned or tired at the time. At 40, you may begin to worry about having "a worse memory than you used to" or “suddenly forgetting stuff I’ve known for ages.” Perhaps you start thinking about using supplements to boost your memory. At 60, many people begin to panic at exactly the same sort of memory glitches they have had all their lives and suddenly anxiety is squeaking in their ear: "Could this be the first sign of Alzheimer's disease?" If you're taking care of it, there's no reason to expect any decline.

Don't be coerced by peer pressure. The older you get, the more likely society will be trying to convince you to worry about memory problems and buy some drugs to prevent them -- but the more you worry about memory, the more you pay attention to it, the more you'll notice each and every slip-up and the more you’ll slow your memory down with anxiety. Odds are you forgot quite a lot of things when you were in your teens or twenties, but you never paid any attention to those lapses.

You’ll also be much more likely to notice slips once you’re actively neurohacking, because you’re getting more sensitive to your own brain’s condition and more aware of what it's doing. So do bear in mind: the more you expect to have memory problems, the more you'll notice them and possibly even cause them.

More than anything else as you age, "know yourself" is a primary rule. The more you know about your own body and mind, the more you are able to adjust behaviors to suit different contexts and adapt, from a sedentary life into an active one, or from manic activity to more controlled strategy.

NEVER listen to anxiety saying you are 'past it'; there is no age prejudice in life, and biology's way of telling us we are 'past it' is being dead. As long as the brain is alive, it strives to improve itself against any and all odds. We can either help it, or get in its way...and we know exactly where the latter road leads and none of us want to go there.
 

 



Last Updated on Monday, 29 May 2017 13:32