What Is Long-Term Memory?
Long-term memory is a function of our brain where we remember something longer than a day or two, and often for many decades. These long-term memories, unlike short-term memories, are relatively permanent.
Our earliest memories often go back to the age of four or five, if they were significant in some way.
Different Kinds of Long-term Memory
There are several different types of long-term memories stored in your brain. These include:
- Semantic Memory
Semantic memories are part of the declarative memory (memories that can be explained and declared), and refer specifically to knowing the meaning of words and actions. An example of a semantic memory is our understanding of what the word "memory" means.
- Episodic Memory
Episodic memories are also part of our declarative memory, and consist of specific events and the information related to that experience. The memory of your best friend's wedding, including the people who were there and the dress you wore, is an example of an episodic memory.
- Procedural Memory
Procedural memories consist of how to do something, including the specific steps required to accomplish a task. Procedural memories are often more difficult to explain in words, and are known as non-declarative memories. For example, we "just know how" to ride a bike, but it's challenging to describe every step or explain how our bodies balance and how our brain makes our legs work to push the pedals.
Long-Term Memory Strategies
There are several ways to improve your long-term memory. Repetition and paying attention are key in doing this. Attaching meaning helps as well, such as when you can associate new information with something already known and understood.
Additionally, teaching information to others enables that knowledge to very effectively get into our memory and remain there, since we have to be able to understand it and then express it well to someone else.
How Does Alzheimer’s Affect Long-Term Memory?
Alzheimer’s and other dementias can affect long-term memory in two different ways. A person can have difficulty storing the information in the long-term memory, and also have challenges with getting it out, or retrieving it. Either, or both, can be the case with different kinds of dementia.
As Alzheimer's progresses, semantic, episodic and procedural memories all gradually erode. They may have difficulty finding words, memories of significant events, such as weddings, may fade, and anything that requires multiple steps might become lost.
For example, family members often appear familiar to those with advancing dementia, but they might not be able to identify the specific relationship. In the late stages of Alzheimer's, your loved one might not be able to demonstrate an awareness of your presence.
Other Causes of Long-Term Memory LossDementia is the most common cause of long-term memory loss, but not the only one. A few other causes include:
- Alcohol abuse
- Drug abuse
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Aging (some memories gradually fade over time)
- Child abuse or traumatic events (trauma can sometimes cause very clear memories; other times, it may cause memory repression)
- Brain tumors
Responding to Long-Term Memory Loss in DementiaHere are a few helpful things you can do:
- Display pictures of family and friends.
- If you have DVDs or other recordings of family events or meaningful people, play that recording from time to time for the person.
- Always introduce yourself by name.
- Remember that the loss of a special memory, or even who you are, is not an indicator that you aren't meaningful or special to that person. It's a result of the disease, not a choice that he is making.
- Don't constantly remind the person of her memory loss. Love her unconditionally and be with her.
A.D.A.M. Memory Loss. Accessed February 22, 2012. http://adam.about.net/encyclopedia/Memory-loss.htm
Online Education Database. Hacking Knowledge: 77 Ways to Learn Faster, Deeper, and Better. Accessed February 23, 2012. http://oedb.org/library/college-basics/hacking-knowledge
Purdue University. Long-Term Memory. Accessed February 22, 2012. http://education.calumet.purdue.edu/vockell/EdPsyBook/Edpsy6/edpsy6_long.htm
DementiaGuide. Memory. Accessed February 21, 2012. http://www.dementiaguide.com/aboutdementia/alzheimers/memory/