Games that train your brain have become so popular recently because as we age, we all have the goal of keeping our minds sharp. These types of games promise to preserve mental function and even better the memories of those growing older.
But can we trust the claims of effectiveness that these games stand by? That debate won’t be discussed here, but studies have not had promising results. The most recent research regarding these brain games shows that they are not helpful, and they even failed a big scientific test.
As these games begin to look less effective, where can you turn to better your memory? Recent studies on the brain show that the relationship between hearing and memory is stronger than what was once thought. In fact, research continually emphasizes the importance of sharp hearing to a strong memory.
In order to fully grasp just how important hearing is on your ability to remember information, we must take a look at how human memory works. By understanding this, it is easy to see how treating hearing loss has one of the biggest impacts on strengthening your memory.
How human memory works
Memory is one of the most complex human processes. One aspect of memory that makes it so difficult to understand is that it occurs across the entire brain. There is not one single area we can designate as being the sole place where memories are stored.
Memory storage occurs in the brain with the use of electrical and chemical signals. These signals involve billions of neurons and trillions of connections between them. Because of the numerous connections that memory uses, it is not fully understood.
What researchers do understand, however, is that the creation of memories occurs in three stages: encoding, storage, and retrieval.
The first stage occurs when we pay attention to information occurring in the environment. This is referred to as encoding. The attention that we give the stimulus aids in filtering out unimportant information and allows us to focus on what’s important. Without filtering, your brain would try to store every stimulus you were exposed to, which would lead to your memory filling to capacity very quickly.
The stage that follows encoding is called the memory stage. Your short-term memory, also known as your working memory, has the ability to hold up to seven pieces of information for about 20-30 seconds. Although this does not seem like a lot of storage space, you can expand this capacity through several techniques. For instance, you can use mnemonic devices or utilize a technique called chunking which is breaking long strings of numbers into groups.
Information that we store in our short-term memory can either fade away or is be transferred into our long-term memory. In order to make the move from short-term to long-term, you must practice attention, repetition, and association. The three main ways to improve your memory of any piece of information are:
- To be less distracted and therefore more focused on the information.
- To be exposed to the information more frequently and for a longer time.
- To be able to associate the new information with information you already stored.
The last stage of memory is retrieval. This stage gives you the ability to willingly recall information that has been stored in long-term memory. The better the information is encoded and stored in the first place, the easier it will be to recall later on.
How growing older affects memory
In order to fully understand how much the brain can change as we age, we must keep in mind that it has a characteristic referred to as plasticity. This is the ability to change structure in response to new stimuli that we are exposed to on a daily basis. This plasticity can have both positive and negative effects on us as we age.
As we grow older, our brain changes both chemically and structurally. The brain loses cells, loses connections between these cells, and shrinks in size. These changes can impair our memory and general cognitive function as we grow old.
Luckily, the plasticity of our brains can result in positive things as well. It helps us create new connections as we age, learn new things, and can also strengthen our memories all at the same time. There have actually been many studies that show that exercise and mental stimulation can keep our brains sharp well into our 80s.
The biggest culprit of memory decline as we grow older is really just a lack of use. Because of this, it is essential to keep our minds active. It is also extremely important to learn new things as frequently as possible.
How hearing loss affects memory
When it comes to hearing loss, can it actually affect our memory?
It is easy to see how hearing loss can have a large impact on our memory, as proven by many studies. We’ve already discussed above that the ability to store information in long-term memory is dependent on how well you pay attention.
So let’s say you’re having a conversation with someone, for example. When one experiences hearing impairment, two things are simultaneously happening. Firstly, you’re simply not able to hear what is being said. This means that your brain is never able to properly encode the information in the first place. When you try to recall the information later on, you are unable to.
Secondly, because you’re not hearing part of what is being said, you have to use mental resources to try to figure out meaning through the context of the conversation. When you are struggling to understand the meaning, a lot of the information is either distorted or lost.
To top it off, the brain has been shown to reorganize itself in those who experience hearing loss. Because hearing loss results in reduced sound stimulation, the part of the brain that processes sound becomes weaker. This leads the brain to use this area for other tasks.
Improve your memory, schedule a hearing test
From what has been discussed so far, the solution to improving our memories as we grow older is clear. First, we must keep our minds active, challenging ourselves and learning new things at any chance we get. This can even mean a bit of simple exercise on a daily basis.
Second, and just as important, is taking the right steps to improve hearing. This can be done with hearing aids as they can help us better encode and remember information with sound enhancement. This sound stimulation strengthens the areas of the brain responsible for sound processing and ensures that these specific areas stay strong and sharp.
So throw out the brain games—learn something new that you’re interested in and schedule your hearing test to ensure that your hearing is as sharp as it can be.