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How Memory Changes With Age Video

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  • 0:03 The Brain
  • 1:49 Short-Term Memory
  • 3:31 Long-Term Memory
  • 5:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

In this lesson, we will look at some basic information on the brain and see how memory changes over time due to the physiological changes that occur to the brain.

The Brain

We can't study something without studying all the parts. I mean, we wouldn't want to say we know about how to throw a ball if we have no idea what is going on in the shoulder, upper and lower arm and joints. It's just madness!

To study the effects of both long-term and short-term memory and aging, I want you to have a clear understanding of why the changes happen. To this end, I will give you a brief synopsis of brain 101, and then we will look at how memory changes with age.

The brain is a hyper-complex, hyper-connected organ consisting of neurons and supporting cells involved with homeostatic maintenance, behaviors and memories. Needless to say, if it is part of the body, then the brain is involved. What I want to focus on here is the neurons, which are specialized cells involved with transporting signals.

Your brain is made up of approximately 86 billion neurons (nobody's really counted them all). Each neuron makes anywhere from 5 to 10,000 connections. So when I said the brain was hyper-complex and hyper-connected, I was talking about 86 billion neurons multiplied by, let's say, on average 5,000 connections each.

As a rule of thumb, neurons do not regenerate. There is some research to suggest that they can grow back, but these are in extremely small parts of the brain and the effect of this is not fully known. Therefore, as a general rule, once you lose a neuron, it doesn't come back. This will be important in just a bit.

Short-Term Memory and Age

Memory has been divided up in several ways over the years. As of right now, it has been cleaved into two main categories, short-term and long-term. Both of these are then subdivided into multiple, smaller groups that deal with specific types of information.

Short-term memory is a functional and immediate area of focus with a short duration and variable capacity. Short-term memory is the thing you use to hold an idea in your head, manipulate it and then lose it. It is meant for immediate things in your focus.

Right now, you are holding in your short-term memory me talking about the brain a minute ago as well as the definition of 'short-term memory.' But for me to ask you what you had for breakfast means you had to bump something from your short-term memory to reach into you long-term memory. To me, memory has always seemed like a desk, with short-term memory being what is on the desk right in front of you.

Before we dig into long-term memory, pun intended, we need to sort out what happens to short-term memory as we age. And it isn't good. As we age, the capacity and functional limits of short-term memory break down. In the desk metaphor, the top of the desk gets smaller and slanted, so things just seem to get lost or just roll right off.

This is likely due to the fact that as we age, the connections between our neurons break down and we lose neurons. That forces the brain to find ways to compensate. Keeping with our desk metaphor, the brain tries to use other things for a desktop, but they aren't as good as polished wood.

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