Improve Memory

Dec 18, 2008 by

Improve MemoryAlmost all of us have a desire to improve our memories in some regard. Reasons to improve memory go beyond wanting to be able to remember dates, trivia, and the names of your party guests.  There actually may be no single factor as important in our definitions of “self” as memory. As early as 1690, the English philosopher John Locke proposed that personal identity is constituted through the memories we have of our past experiences and how strongly we are able to link them to our present experience and situation. In other words, an individual has the same sense of self through time because his or her memories of the past create a seemingly consistent narrative that leads up to his or her present situation.

We are, in every sense of the word, products of our experiences. Each new day, with its collection of choices and moments and lessons learned, adds another set of experiences into the mixture we call our “selves.” Whether or not you fully subscribe to the memory theory of personality (and there are, as always, philosophers who have used thought experiments to dispute it), you probably have some memories that feel like they form an essential part of who you are: graduating high school or university, say, or meeting a spouse or significant other for the first time. In this sense, our memories form part of who we are, and losing them can feel like losing a piece of ourselves.

Can there be any more uncomfortable a prospect than that of amnesia? A dire and extreme example, for sure, but not completely fantastical. You may be familiar with the idea of amnesia as a common soap opera conceit: the protagonist suffers head trauma from a car accident or fall, and forgets who he is— and the complex web of interpersonal dramas he was no doubt involved in before the amnesia plot made its entrance.

In real life, this kind of head trauma-induced amnesia is rare: while people may briefly have trouble remembering the events that led up to a traumatic accident, and forming short term memories afterward, this form of amnesia is usually temporary and quickly reverses itself as injuries heal. However, progressive amnesia is a tragic fact of life for people struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Amnesia which wipes out parts of a person’s long-term autobiographical memory (past life experiences, in other words) can also occur in patients who suffer inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), a stroke, or any other traumatic event in which the brain is deprived of oxygen. Some researchers have also suggested that temporary amnesia can also occur in diabetic people who suffer a bout of hyperglycemia, or dangerously high blood sugar. Rarely, a person who undergoes an emotionally traumatic experience–such as being the victim of a violent crime– may experience a very selective type of amnesia, called psychogenic or dissociative amnesia, in which they forget the event itself and nothing else. Psychologists think dissociative amnesia probably has a protective function on the psyche, and works by  insulating the person from an extremely distressing experience.

 Even in everyday life, our memories are constantly failing us far more than we consciously realize. It is for this reason that many of us pursue options for improving our memories, especially in an increasingly information-filled world and day. We’re bombarded with mountains of information on a daily basis, encouraged to remember anything and everything as part of staying connected to the modern world…how can we possibly remember just the information we need to remember for ourselves anymore?

There are literally hundreds of examples of how our memories fail us. Moments disappear, names teeter precariously on the tips of our tongues, we miss important dates and appointments  and have to suffer the consequences. From stressed college students to those of us getting on in years, it’s safe to say we could all benefit from some basic tools and skills to improve memory. And, after years of folklore and unconfirmed tales about various products that claim to improve memory, recent clinical studies have confirmed that there may be hope for those of us who feel a bit lost with our memories.

Among the products given clinical credence in terms of improving memory, the Ayurvedic herb Celastrus paniculatus and its various manifestations (in tincture, seed, or convenient tea form) has performed at levels far exceeding a placebo, especially when mixed with other traditional memory-enhancing herbal products. All-natural celastrus-based products have begun to surface here and there, and will undoubtedly soon be the subject of much conversation for their memory-improving capabilities. So do your research and consider your options, because memories are slippery things; without a bit of help, we could all find ourselves disconnected from the moments, facts, and ideas that define who we are.

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