Memory techniques are a core part of your daily routine when you’re in school. You needed them to help learn and consolidate the massive amount of information thrown at you on a daily basis. Yet as adults, we seem to think that our memories are getting worse when – in reality – we’ve just stopped using the same tools.
We used to believe that the ability to improve memory and cognitive function peaked in our younger years and declined as we age. While there is a correlation with memory problems and age, this concept is not entirely true (1). The rate at which you process information may change, but the ability to learn and remember things is largely affected by external factors.
For example, lack of sleep, stress, multitasking, staying sedentary, poor diet, or taking medication can all contribute to what seems to be a declining memory (2).
With the notable exception of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and malnutrition, you have control of how good of a memory you have.
What Affects Memory?
Some memories are affected by age. We often can’t remember things that happened decades ago compared to instances from just a few months ago. This is not the same as the ability to learn or create new memories. Improving memory takes effort and practice, like any other task.
Consider foreign languages. This is one such area where “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”. We remember things that are daily tasks or occurrences thanks to repetition, which strengthens neuro pathways and makes this information easier to retrieve. Likewise, we remember important events because of the emotions we tie to them. If something is not as important to us, then it’s harder to remember.
Through a new field of study on the process of neuroplasticity, scientists have proven that even the elderly are able to form new neural networks (3,4). The human brain is extremely resilient and very powerful. How else would we be able to recover from a stroke and relearn how to walk and talk? There is no age at which you can’t learn how to improve memory.