You have a wonderful organ in your body called the Adrenal Gland and when it produces a stress hormone called CORTISOL, it becomes your worst nightmare! When ever we are asked to step out of our comfort zone which is a bubble of about 21 inches around our feet we stress out. Our brain says I am out of here until you can take the stress off of me! So is it any wonder why you feel like you are getting the early onset of Alzheimer's. We build memories throughout life using the wonderful senses GOD gave us when he created us. He knew we were incapable of working efficiently without some practice. He also gave us a way to not lose all of our ability to remember by breaking up memories into various areas of our brain where they are initially created. Yes, stored in a way, that if we were to accidentally destroy one of the areas by abuse, trauma, or unhealthy means, we could reestablish our memory by using one of the other areas.
Let me explain what I mean. When you learn something new say colors, objects, pain, emotion, love, etc we store that new learned memory in the area that is stimulated first or the most. Encoding a memory is just that, new information laid down in a memory trace by visual, auditory, touch, smell etc. Now the way that cluster of neurons is established is like drawing a circle with a dot in the middle of the circle. Let's call that a brain cell. Then draw a line out of the edge of the circle to a smaller dot. We will call that the receptor at the point of that smaller dot. Now the line between the circle and the dot is called a Dendrite or Axon depending on which side you draw a line, oh yeah there will actually be two lines coming out of the brain cell with little dots on the end. Now what we wind up with is a circle with a dot in the middle of it called a nucleus and two lines maybe out of opposite ends of the circle drawn to a smaller dot on the end of each line. Now we have a brain cell or neuron. Now along the line parallel to the line are wrappings like taking a long hair and wrapping scotch tape around it lengthwise. Let's say every one inch along the way with a 1/4 inch gap before wrapping another inch of more scotch tape around it and doing this all the way to the end of the line to the small dot. Now this is called the myelin sheath where the tape is wrapped around the lines several times along the line each 1 inch area with a gap of 1/4 inch between each or space. It might look like this O---------0. Except the first or big O would have a dot in the middle and I can't make this draw such so you will just have to imagine it's there!
Now when you learn some new data or information like a memory this little diagram I have just abstractly laid down in your mind (or tried to illustrate above) is created. Neurotransmitters or chemicals travel along this little line to the small dot called a receptor and another just like it almost butts up against the first circle line dot connection with a gap between each area. It might look like this O------00------O. When in our brain we get to a salt solution action potential they call it of Plus or Minus 70 salt or sodium solution a synapse fires electrically (about 5 watts) between the little dots in the middle connecting those two brain cells (nucleus) at each end making one memory trace or neuron cluster.
Now that is as graphic, abstract or technical as I will get just to let you know where memories are built. Now imagine 26 Billion neurons in the average person made up of these little connectors and brain cells that make up your memory. Imagine every time you have seen, read, heard, felt, smelled, or tasted something new a brand new cluster of these neurons are built. Also they are still up there in your non erasable tape that you try to retrieve at your beckon call if there was enough emotion or novelty to make it unique.. This is where the problem lies you did not store it efficiently by focusing on it so it's just thrown up into your brain where you have trouble retrieving it. And this why your concern of early onset of Alzheimer's plays out in your mind every time you forget.
The exciting thing is that you have the power to control how these neuron clusters are stored for retrieval at your command. The problem is you haven't been taught formally how to do just that. You see in kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade you were doing ok because you were using the best system ever developed. Then wham in 3rd, 4th and on you became brain dead. Why because you were being taught from then on how to memorize. There lies the dilemma of why you can't retrieve the things you want when you want them. Because of that wonderful Cortisol hormone that shuts you down on retrieving from the long term memory or storing of new short term memories.
Let me explain it to you another way when you use to play the game Pong on your computer or Nintendo player whatever, you tried to make the ball hit the paddle and back over to the other side and back and on and on. Well when the memory trace or neuron cluster is formed in the visual cortex then the auditory and then the taste or smell on and on the little chemical and electrical firings from cell body to cell body keeps going back and forth echoing until you either transfer it to long term memory or to oblivion. The real secret of how to control that echoing and lying down of new information or details of that memory is that you have to be focused. You also need to have a place to tie the stimuli to, in order for it to transfer to your long term memory for future recall.
Your brain works in pictures and the sooner you learn how to create those mental file folders (a mental location to store information in) and then how to put the picture in the file folder and glue it to the file the sooner you will be able to remember. You then will be able to have the self confidence that Alzheimer's will never have a place in your life. Neither will absentmindedness, stress or any other Mild Cognitive Impairment be able to embarrass you ever again. By having a place to file something hold on to it long enough for the echoing and firing to keep echoing or firing continuously longer the better those memory traces will be laid down. Then when you need it the same neurons that fired originally will fire again in a clear synchronized manner to retrieve and give it back to you almost identical to the way you built it. It will never be identical because you would not know the difference of a memory and reality. If you allow enough novelty or emotion to store with the cluster the memory has a chance over the next 10 minutes to 2 years through hippocampul consolidation to lay down into the long term memory transferred from the working or short term memory. Actually the memory is laid down between stage 3 and 4 of your sleep cycles somewhere in the a.m. of sleep. So by learning how to organize and file pictures into you files and bonding them with glue you can keep it for as long as you deem necessary. The process we call Mindful Based Stress Reduction.
Life is fun and easy when you pictureize your way through life instead of memorize. More detail and explanation of how memory can be improved will be forthcoming in future articles.