Much has been written about how to improve your memory. With normal aging, and for those without 9 - 5 jobs, we are at risk for losing parts of our memory.
As we age, our bodies decrease the amount of the chemicals. Many hormones affect the ability of our brain to function effectively. Dopamine effects our “context processing” or our ability to process context for a thought, memory or behavior (APA, 2001).
As with muscles, we must use and work our memories. For those with dementia, basically a build up of plaque that prevents normal brain functioning, not using their brains means that they deteriorate faster.
There are differences between long-term (LTM) and short-term memory (STM). Both are required to fully function.
How do we build memory?
Memory is built from sensory information (see the graphic), and kinesthetic experiences that are held in various parts of our brain. Some new memory is associated with previous experiences, such as PTSD events that recur with familiar people, places or things. We drive a car using memory of previous experiences and training. Of course, even those who no longer drive, would be able to remember how to, just like riding a bike. These memories are deeply stored.
But, if you do not use it, you do appear to lose it! I have great fun when my adult children visit. We were a fairly functional family, single-parent family, and we thrive on revisiting their youthful antics.
For those in institutions, this might be a difficult thing. Fortunately, the phone is a readily available tool. We use Skype for long-distance visits, too. Activities keep our seniors busy and thinking. But Kovach and Magliocco (1998) found participation in activities for 10 or fewer minutes daily. Caregivers assisted adults with activities 37.5% of the time. This does not bode well for the stimulation of our brains or bodies.
What kind of fulfilling activities can LTC residents participate in that might have meaning for them?
For those who benefit from therapy, many involve objects that look like children's toys (which may be insulting to those who are in the earlier stages of the disease), or have no real goal. Since industry has gone so far in terms of developing children's cognitively stimulating toys, isn't it time to look at the other end of the time continuum? One tool is Wii. It can be found in many LTC homes. Getting seniors to participate, as far as I observed, can be tricky.
I think we need to build better community relationships to help support those in LTC. We need to encourage those who live alone to get out and socialize. Many communities offer Day Away programs, Senior Centres, and respite care for those who might appreciate them. Transportation remains an awful issue for some. This is where a basket of services should be available through CCAC for at-risk seniors and those who lack the resources to keep themselves happily ensconced at home.
Kovach, C. R., & Magliocco, J. S. (1998). Late-stage dementia and participation in therapeutic activities. Applied Nursing Research, 11(4), 167-173.