Reflection March 12, 2017
Forgetfulness and the Brain (Part One)
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
On Thursday, February 23, I attended an all-day workshop in Tinley Park conducted by a physician who also happens to be a lawyer. I was doing this because every two years I must get 30 hours of continuing education to retain my State of Illinois license as a professional counselor.
This past Wednesday (March 8), I presented lectures at 11 am and 7 pm, encapsulating what I learned at that workshop. I’d like to give some highlights. I will also be presenting this lecture at Smith Village on Thursday, April 6, at 10:30 am for anyone not able to attend the lectures at MPBC.
It goes without saying that our memories are among our most precious possessions. When our memory is severely diminished - we lose a large part of what makes us who we are. Memories are useless if one cannot retrieve them. While there was a great deal of brain structure information given at the workshop, I will not present it here.
Basically there are two types of memory: 1) declarative memory (memories of our experiences and our book learning) and 2) procedural memory (how to button a shirt, how to ride a bike, and the like). Procedural memory lasts much longer than declarative memory.
It is interesting to note that the amygdala (part of the limbic system - or “deeper” brain - which regulates our emotional life and is the seat of fear, anger, disgust, sadness, surprise and joy) is larger in women than in men. This is why women often produce stronger emotions than men. It is also why women find it harder to “let go” and why women find optimism harder to maintain than men.
In our medical system, we focus much more on heart health than on brain health. But our brains are central to everything! For instance, our brains NEED fat! No one should be on a fat-free diet because it will damage the brain and, subsequently, our memories.
The presenter suggested that everyone use butter and eggs (with the yolks). He also suggested that people taking statins take CoEnzyme Q10 along with a good fish oil to offset the side effects of statin drugs.
Aging is not a disease. It is a natural part of life. Ideally, the older we become the more opportunity we have to consolidate our learning into true wisdom.
To stay healthy, our brain’s neurons must communicate with each other and repair themselves. Much of this repair happens when we sleep. Also memory is consolidated during certain stages of sleep. If we do not get good sleep - our memories will suffer.
We have two variations of memory: short-term memory and long-term memory. Short-term memory is like a scratch pad - which is “wiped clean” every day. For something to go from short-term memory to long-term memory, it must be “encoded.” This happens during sleep. Poor sleep habits impairs our memories.
Naps help us keep our memories. Students who took a 90 minute nap did much better on testing than did those who did not nap. Even a 6 minute nap helps with retaining memories.
Students who sleep better do better in school. But we often push sleep into the background - something we do after we do everything else.
The presenter suggested we turn off our cell phones for at least an hour before going to bed. (I also suggest turning down the lights for an hour or more before going to bed. Light seriously disrupts our sleep cycles. Watching television or working on a computer or smart phone until bedtime will significantly affect the quality of our sleep.) The presenter made this strong statement: sleep is more important than work!
Memory is central to all of our cognitive functions and affects everything we think, plan, and do. We can store in our brains billions of inter-connected bits of memory. But our brains do not work like computers.
Memories are not stored on a “hard-drive.” Memories are stored along the entire length of the cortex.
We tend to forget what is not important to us. We also tend to forget anything on which we do not focus attention. The older we become the more difficult it is for us to multi-task. The older we become, the more we need to focus our attention. The more often a memory is recalled, the stronger that memory becomes.
Our brains are the most oxygen-hungry organ we have. It is very important for us to get exercise to help our brains get the oxygen they need. The presenter suggested walking briskly for 20 minutes every day (but not running). One should walk at a brisk 100 steps a minute. It is best to do this outdoors so we can get the daylight we need to help with our sleep cycles.
I will present more information in part two - in next week’s Advance!
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