One goal that we all share as we age is staying mentally sharp. Because of this, brain training games have become very popular. These types of games claim to better our memories and maintain our cognitive function for as long as possible.
As more and more research on these games are performed, many questions have been raised whether these claims are true or not. The latest research has shown that these kinds of games have actually failed big scientific tests, so it seems the future of brain games is not looking good.
Now that these games seem to be ineffective, where should you turn to better your mental function and memory? One very important aspect concerning this topic is the connection between memory and hearing. Research has recently shown that this connection is much stronger than what scientists previously believed. In actuality, research highlights just how important healthy hearing is to healthy memory over and over again.
One of the best ways to give your memory a boost is to treat your hearing, which is made clear when we examine the process of human memory.
How human memory works
The tricky part to understanding human memory is that its processes occur all over the brain. There is not one single area of the brain we can point to as being the only location where memory storage takes place.
The key to memory is the connections between neurons. There are billions of neurons that are all connected by electrical and chemical signals which allow the brain to store memories. As you would assume, due to the vast amount of connections and neurons that are active in the process of memory storage, the process is not at all completely understood.
Research has supported, however, that the creation of memories occurs in three stages: encoding, storage, and retrieval.
Encoding is the first stage of the process. This stage occurs simultaneously with the process of filtering. Filtering happens as you subconsciously filter out information that is unimportant and it allows you to take note of the important information that you plan to store. This occurs as encoding is also occurring when you pay attention to something in the environment.
After the information is encoded, it must be stored through the second part of the process. Your brain has the ability to hold about seven pieces of information for 20-30 seconds with the help of your short-term (working) memory. Luckily, we are able to expand this capacity through several techniques. Chunking, which is breaking long strings of numbers into groups is one technique, as well as the use of mnemonic devices to help remember information more easily.
Whatever we store in short-term memory ends up falling into two categories. It is either lost and fades away as time passes or it becomes a part of long-term memory and is stored. The three main keys of storing information in long-term memory are attention, repetition, and association. These allow you to successfully store the information, and helps you to be able to retrieve the information whenever need be. These help us as you become:
- less distracted and more focused.
- exposed to the information frequently.
- able to associate the new information with previously stored information
Retrieval is the last stage of storage. Although this stage does not exactly have to do with the physical storing of the memory, its success depends on how well we are able to store in the first
place. This stage exists to allow us to get information out of long-term memory and apply it to what we are currently doing. We must initially store the information successfully in order to bring the information out of long-term memory and use it.
How growing older affects memory
Our brain changes vastly as we grow older. This happens because of a characteristic of the brain called plasticity. When we are exposed to new stimuli, our brain changes in response to it and utilizes its plasticity. When examining the effects of plasticity, researchers have found that they can be both positive and negative.
The plasticity of our brain creates changes both chemically and physically. On the chemical end, It loses some cells and some connections between cells. Physically, the brain can actually shrink in size as we age. These changes tend to impair our cognitive ability and worsens our memory.
However, the plasticity of our brains allows us to create new connections between neurons, and this can happen well into our older years. As we learn new concepts and are exposed to new things on a daily basis, our brain and memory are actually both simultaneously being strengthened. Research shows that mental exercise and stimulation can keep our brains sharp well into our 80s.
As we examine the reasons for memory decline, the biggest culprit is simply lack of use. Because of this, keeping our minds active and learning new things is an essential part of healthy aging.
How hearing loss affects memory
So can hearing loss actually affect our ability to remember things?
Studies have shown that this is in fact true. From what we have previously discussed, this seems quite clear. We’ve already explained how our attention affects our ability to store information in long-term memory and this is actually extremely important in our everyday lives.
For instance, let’s say you are having a common conversation with a friend. Two things are occurring simultaneously if you experience hearing loss. Firstly, you’re not able to physically hear part of what is being said, which results in your brain not being able to properly encode the information in the first place. Later, when you need to recall the information, you can’t.
Because you’re only hearing part of what is being said, you’re also devoting mental resources to try and figure out meaning through the context of the conversation. As you struggle to understand the meaning and are distracted from the content of the actual conversation, most of the information is distorted or lost.
To top off the effects of hearing loss, research has shown that the brain has been shown to reorganize itself in those with a hearing impairment. This occurs because of a reduced amount of sound stimulation. When this stimulation is lessened, 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
We have made the solution to bettering our memory pretty clear throughout our discussion. In the first place, we must challenge ourselves and learn new things in order to keep our minds sharp.
Secondly, we must take the proper precautions and steps to keep our hearing as healthy as possible. This can happen with the simple help that hearing aids provide. This enhanced sound stimulation helps us in our daily lives, especially in daily conversations. And, the enhanced sound stimulation to the parts of the brain responsible for sound processing ensures that these areas stay strong.
So forget the brain games—learn something new that you have an interest in and schedule your hearing test to ensure that your hearing is the best it can be.