Memory & Mental Health
Memory and the mental health are two terms that are interrelated and supplement each other. They are like sets where the larger set is the mental health which has several sub sets; the memory being the predominant contributor. While the mental status of a person is the representation of various factors including his environment, his behavioral and psychological characteristics, the memory formulates an important faction of the brain that brings the whole personality together. To tackle this complex arrangement, this paper has been formulized in the following manner:
1. How memories are made in the brain.
2. Types of memories.
3. Memory training and improvement of mental health.
4. Diet/vitamins for better memory.
5. Brain exercises.
The brain is, by far, the most intricate and mysterious organ in the human body. It is composed of over 100 billion cells called neurons and is the center from which all of our skills of higher reasoning originate — creativity, learning, imagination, planning, and, perhaps most notable of all, our sense of identity. Largely, the brain is made up of four distinct lobes on both the left and right hemispheres. The frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes each have primary processing functions, such as cognition, hearing, sensory input, and vision respectively, but they also function in harmony to regulate one another. Discussion of memory theories and memory models has made it clear that an adequate theory of human memory requires a comprehensive theory of human psychological functioning. As several memory theorists have discovered (Neisser, 1967; Reitman, 1970), neither memory registration nor recall can be explained apart from other cognitive functions. Indeed, they cannot be explained apart from the whole complex of psychological functions, just as the neural substrate of memory cannot be sketched apart from the functioning of the brain in other psychological activities (Magda, 1984, p.90).
How memories are made in the Brain
Human memory is one area of interest, of which, our understanding is quickly growing. Our memories are amazing in their capacity — for example, a young child learns about 10 new words each day, and the average adult can easily build a vocabulary of over 100,000 words (Higbee, 1996, p. 13). It is the evolution of our memories that has, largely, preserved our species. The key to our survival has been the ability of one generation to pass along its sagacity, innovations, and experiences to the next, so that they can improve upon them and progress rapidly. Human memory can broadly be defined as a function of the brain that gives us the ability to store and retrieve information. There are many different types of memory, and many different mechanisms for their storage and retrieval processes. There are, potentially, as many types of memory as there are types of information and input to remember, and so the concept of one single brain section holding responsibility for memory has become somewhat obsolete.
Types of Memory
There is general consensus upon the existence of sensory memories (taste, visual, tactile) as well as more conceptually based memories (episodic, procedural and declarative). All of these individual memory modes can combine to form much more complex and varied remembrances. Consider any significant childhood memory, perhaps the first time you can remember riding your bicycle without training wheels. During the moments in which that memory was created, your brain was processing thousands of pieces of information, and your memory had to decide which of those pieces were important enough to be worth storing for later retrieval. You probably do not remember less-central information such as the shoes you were wearing, or the colors of the cars parked along the curb where you rode; this information might have entered into your short-term memory, from which you might have been able to retrieve it for a few hours or even a couple of days (Buzan, 1991, p.48).
The amount of information stored in long-term memory, and the wide variety of types of information stored, make it unbelievable that any one brain structure could be solely responsible for that storage. Indeed, a lot of theories point towards a long-term memory system that stores various types of remembered information in the brain areas most closely related to it —i.e., remembered words would be stored in the brain’s language center, whereas a remembered sound would be placed on a mental “shelf” in the proximity of the brain’s temporal lobes, primarily responsible for hearing. Then, the billions of interconnected neurons link these discrete segments of a more complex memory together, so that, when retrieved, all of the information about that first bike ride comes to mind as a whole, rather than as a haphazard assortment of parts.
Memory training and improvement of mental health
Various factors and actions can be employed to improve upon the distressed mental state and to train the memory for enhanced performance. These are tabulated as follows:
· Rest is very crucial to improving the memory and stabilizing an erratic mental state. Pretty much the same way as the human muscles repair themselves while we are asleep, the brain also takes a roll call of its disorders and initiates the repair procedure. According to two recent studies, the brain molds newly-learned information into lasting memories most successfully while we rest.
· Research at the University of North Umbria and the Cognitive Research Unit in Reading, England, shows that the repetitive chewing motion, like that of a chewing gum, positively influences thinking, memory, and other mental tasks. This was presented as a team’s findings by Andrew Scholey of the Human Cognitive Neuroscience at the 2001 British Psychological Society’s annual conference in Blackpool. He explained that “the mild increase in heart rate may improve the delivery of oxygen and glucose to the brain, enough to improve cognitive function.”
· The brain can be trained to control specific frequencies of brain activity while subduing others — consciously improving memory function. As reported in the International Journal of Psychophysiology (2003, pp.75-85), “Neurofeedback” is also beneficial to people suffering from hyperactivity, epilepsy, and other cognitive disorders, and can also stimulate working memory in healthy individuals. Researchers at Imperial College London observed forty medical students playing 15-minute intervals of the game twice a week over a period of 4 weeks. A subset of subjects learned to consciously increase their sensorimotor rhythm activity (SMR), which relates to improvements in recall. Enhancing this brain frequency coincided with an increase from 71% initial recall of a list of words to 82% after training (Glasnor, 2004, par 3).
· It is amazing to learn the affects of Mozart’s music on boosting the learning abilities and pacifying an erratic mental state. This has been confirmed by a recent study at Stanford University in California. The New Scientist magazine (2004, p. 15) reported that rats who heard Mozart displayed an increased expression of genes responsible for stimulating and changing brain cell connections. Hippocampus, which is the brain area connected to learning and memory, displayed improved functions of the “smart genes” including CREB, a learning and memory compound; BDNF, a nerve cell growth factor; and synapsin I, responsible for synapse formation. Alzheimer’s patients exposed to Mozart also do better in spatial and social activities, and the famous composer’s sonatas reduce electrical activity associated with seizures in epileptics (Glasnor, 2004, par 5).
Diet for better memory
Alzheimer’s, which is a degenerative disease that currently afflicts over 4 million elderly US citizens, can be effectively countered by a vitamin-rich diet. Recent research has shown that B-vitamins promote cell health and mental acuity. Good sources of B-12 include milk, meat, fish, and eggs. Leafy green vegetables, dried beans and peas, and citrus fruits are naturally rich in folate, and many cereals are fortified with a synthetic version of the important vitamin. The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2001, pp.1053-1058) reported that low saturated fat and cholesterol, a healthy balance of nutrients, and moderate drinking correlated with less cognitive decline. Fish, because it contains Omega-3 fatty acids, also helps keep cognitive functioning intact.
For centuries, herbalists and practitioners have voiced sage’s ability to boost the brain and invigorate the nerves. In a study published in Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior (2003, pp. 669-674), researchers administered sage oil capsules or placebos to 44 healthy adults before they took a word recall test. Those with sage in their systems consistently performed better, recalling more words and exhibiting the herb’s ability to shore up the brain. Furthermore, in a study at Glasgow Caledonian University, researchers discovered that elderly subjects who were administered with glucose before tests of memory and cognition performed better than participants given a saccharin control solution.
A proper exercise regimen can do wonders for the body. Only recently, the same principle has been applied to the mind by psychologists and gerontologists. Moderate physical exercise has a direct effect on some neurotransmitters. In that, 30 minutes worth can stimulate the production of serotonin. The effects of serotonin can be felt after exercise because a ‘feel-good’ sensation sweeps over us, making us feel more energetic and cheerful. Exercise also releases endorphins, a natural painkiller that gives some people a feeling of exhilaration when they exercise (Dr. Dawn, 2004, p. 45). Clinical trials have proved that exercise programs can help people with depression, enabling them to mitigate and even ward off antidepressant drugs, thereby ameliorating the mental health. Certain types of exercise, yoga and tai chi for example, help to reduce anxiety. Like a pencil low on lead, our minds need sharpening. Below is a list of some daily exercises one can do to keep the brain from getting flabby (Cloos, 2004, par 4).
Get rid of the calculator. Do all the arithmetic and numbers in your mind. Add numbers and compare balances until you get the numbers right. You may actually feel the numbers whizzing in your mind.
Once you go to the restaurant, figure the tip in your mind. Do not use the calculator to figure out the 15 or 20 percent.
Hide the list of the stuff that you have to get from the market. Try remembering everything that you have to get, in your mind. Visualize the pantry and the refrigerator in your head. Finally when you are about to check out, consult the list to check whether you missed out on anything.
Tackling crossword puzzles and word jumbles on regular basis would sharpen your mind and help ward off anxiety and depression.
· Board games and charades help jog the memory. Any games that force you to use math and language skills are tapping into those areas of your brain that may need some stirring.
Take up a hobby that forces you to think outside the box. Some examples include learning a foreign language which is very different from English, such as Russian. Or learn how to read music.
The link between education, learning, mental stimulus and brain function is still intriguing; although older people who have regular mental stimulus seem to maintain their cognitive abilities better than those who don’t. But we do not know exactly what we should be doing, for how long and with whom (social activity may be better than doing the crossword solo, for example) to keep our brains in good shape. In the absence of scientific certainties we can only say that keeping up all levels of mental stimulus certainly won’t harm and might just help our brains! As for coping with memory deficits, memory can be trained to some extent and we can learn strategies to support our forgetful minds, whether it’s making lists or using imagery to help (Lorayne, 1974, p. 92). As we get older, our minds are ever bigger warehouses of thoughts, feelings, memories, worries and other distractions that can get in the way of action. Our older brains, however, are also an immense storehouse of experience that we can draw on – and share.
Buzan, Tony. (1991). Use Your Perfect Memory. New York: E.P. Dutton.
Cloos Rhonda, (2002). Brain Exercises: Sharpen your mind with some easy brain exercises. Retrieved April 13, 2006 from http://me.essortment.com/brainexercises_rcas.htm
Glasnor, Joanne. (2004). Brain Workouts May Tone Memory. Retrieved April 13, 2006 from http://www.wired.com/news/medtech/0,1286,68409,00.html
Higbee, Kenneth L. (1996) Your Memory: How it Works And How to Improve It. New York: Marlowe And Company.
Lorayne, Harry and Lucas, Jerry. (1974). The Memory Book. New York: Stein & Day.
Magda, B. Arnold. (1984). Memory and the Brain. Hillsdale, NJ. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Skelton, Dawn Dr. (2004). Exercise for Healthy Ageing, London, Greenwood Press.