Memory is vital to the very existence of life, every living creature on the planet relies on some level of memory to survive. Humans rely on this function perhaps more than any other living thing on the planet.
Names and faces, places, dates and times, our likes and dislikes, in fact everything we have learnt brings us back to our ability to remember. From day one of a newborn’s life through to adulthood and dotage, memory is essential.
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What is Memory?
Memory is encoded information. Connections, or synopses, between neurons in the brain store information in the hippocampus and its associated structures within the temporal lobe. It is estimated that human beings have an information storage capacity of 2.5 petabytes, which is equivalent to 2.5 million gigabytes.
So, we can view memory as information storage. The average person is only able to recall a very small percentage of the information stored in the brain. We often hear it said, “You have a good memory”, but in fact, one person has no more or less a better memory than anyone else, what they do have is a higher level of recall. It is the ability to recall masses of information at will which sets some people apart from others.
Everyone’s brain is constantly taking in masses of information and storing it, in reality we are able to accurately recall a small amount of that information. Some people are hailed as having a photographic memory, known as an eidetic memory. This is said to be the ability to store information in pictures, then recall those pictures in every detail.
However, there is no scientific evidence to prove the existence of the eidetic memory. Young children tend to have better recall abilities than middle aged, and older, adults, to the tune of around 15%. Very often, adults with exceptional levels of recall have utilized “Brain Training”, in one form or another.
The most common form brain training is the loci method, which is a simple form of mnemonics. Loci comes from the Latin word for “Location”. Quite simply, it is training the brain to attach information to familiar places or locations, making it easier to recall in detail.
Neural growth, the protection and repair of the brain cells is wholly reliant on hormones and proteins. As we age, the production of the necessary hormones and proteins declines, thus impairing the brain’s regeneration and protective qualities. Also, in older people, blood flow to the brain decreases which adds to the decline in all manner of cognitive skills. Quite simply, as we age our memory recall ability declines.
This is of course a normal part of aging. But there are many other factors that can blight an individual’s memory recall which can be classified under the umbrella term “Dementia”. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.
Although not fully understood, the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is possibly due to deposits of the hormone amyloid building plaques around the brain cells. This, along with deposits of the protein tau, which tangle the brain cells, cause degenerative memory recall.
The loss of memory recall can also be caused by multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease. As can chronic kidney disease, hypothyroidism, mineral imbalances, deficiencies of folic acid and the vitamins B1 and B12.
Being able to understand memory and recall, along with a comprehensive understanding of contributary medical conditions and relative diseases, has enabled Samitivej Hospital to establish its world leading Memory Clinic. Staffed by highly trained neurologists, psychologists, radiologists, dietitians and occupational therapists, the clinic is able to offer the very best in diagnostics and treatment.
As with any medical condition, early diagnosis is essential, and the Memory Clinic is well placed to identify the early signs of dementia. Utilizing modern methodology, equipment and the most highly trained specialists in the field, the onset of problems can be identified and appropriate treatment be administered.
Initially, a CT or MRI scan may be deployed to begin the diagnostic process. CT scanning, or computerized tomography, utilizes multiple X-rays taken from differing angles. Then, via computer processing cross sectional images of the brain can be created.
MRI scanning, or magnetic resonance imaging, creates similar images to the CT scan only via a differing method. The MRI scanners use magnetic fields and the field gradients, along with radio waves to create the required images. Although the resulting images from both are similar, there are some differences.
As a general rule, a CT scan is better at reproducing spatial resolution. Thus, CT scans are very good at defining the edges of an image making it easier to see where one structure ends and another begins. On the other hand, images created by an MRI scan are better at showing contrast resolution. This is particularly good for identifying healthy and cancerous tissues, vital in the diagnosis of various forms of cancer.
CT or MRI scanning may then be followed by varying forms of memory testing. An MoCA, or Montreal Cognitive Assessment or an MMSE, Mini-Mental State Examination can be employed. These tests aid the specialists in determining the degree of severity of memory loss in a patient.
It must be understood that there is no cure for dementia. Although research continues in the pursuit of cures for various dementia causing diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, and dementia with Lewy. Dementia with Lewy is a disease in which alpha-synuclein protein creates abnormal deposits in the brain.
Although dementia cannot be cured, the Memory Clinic at Samitivej Hospital has assembled a team of highly trained specialists dedicated to maintaining the maximum quality of life for the sufferer and their loved ones through unrivaled care, advice and treatment.
Medication may be prescribed to treat the symptoms resulting from dementia. Donepezil, also called Aricept, shows positive effects in treating mild to severe symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Rivastigmine from Exelon and Galantamine from Reminyl do likewise for mild to moderate cases.
In addition to medication, occupational therapeutic activities have positive results in most cases. Coupled with environmental awareness to aid in self-care is beneficial to most patients suffering with dementia.