Thursday, May 7, 2009

Spanish Learning Chapter Twelve

Memory in Spanish Learning

learn to speak spanishThe truth is that as we age, some memory "deficits" begin to occur. The good news is these deficits are not necessarily set in stone nor are they irreversible. Though we cannot escape the often-inevitable loss of some cognitive functioning, like aging issues with memory, new research is showing that some age-related memory problems can be reversed with proper memory training.

This issue of memory is so important when it comes to learning a new language. We often feel completely overwhelmed at the amount of new vocabulary we need to master in order to develop a high degree of spoken fluency in the target language. But what the research shows, and what you can do about memory problems, may just surprise you.

Newer studies show some very promising hope for what used to be thought of as a hopeless situation with age-related memory problems. Older adults, it turns out, have unused resources in the left frontal cortex of the brain that can be used to compensate for normal memory loss.

There is now substantial evidence that growing old does not destroy the cognitive functioning required for memory in the frontal lobes of the brain. These new studies show older adults, as they age normally, find it more difficult to access the frontal lobes for memory functioning, something that younger people seem to utilize easily.

Younger people, when utilizing memory, seem to use the frontal left cortex almost exclusively for memory function. Older adults seem to gradually decline in spontaneous memory response in this area of the brain. Older adults struggle along processing memory using the parts of their brains that younger people use routinely and rapidly.

These studies provide strong support for the for the fact that though an individual may be suffering from some normal aging, no -related memory losses, if they are provided with specialized training, they can recover memory abilities once thought long lost to the aging process. The operative concept here is memory loss that is related to normal aging issues and not to an organic disease process.

What exactly is happening when we grow old and begin to suffer those "Senior Moments" seems to be a deficit in two issues of memory functioning: 1) a slowing of the ability to use that area of the brain best suited for memory processing, and 2) what seems a refusal to use memory techniques and training appropriate for reversing memory losses in those areas of the brain we used to use when we were younger.

When we were younger and had a memory task to accomplish, our brains would select almost instantly the preferred region of the brain for memory processing. As we grow older and begin to suffer memory deficits, our brains are NOT using the preferred regions for memory processing but other regions not as effective for memory processing.

However, it is now possible, using proper memory training technique, to more fully access the preferred region of the brain for effective memory tasks at levels closely approximating that of young adults.

The specific memory issue with aging adults seems to be with the short-term memory. An older adult, for example, can recount a story that happened twenty years previously but cannot recall to whom he's already told the story. However, this does not appear to be an issue of concentration or attention but, rather, an issue of distracting influences.

Studies from The University of California at Berkley, using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, show for the first time that memory problems are due more to trying to filter though irrelevant information than a problem of focusing on the information that is relevant.

In other words, just focusing on the information the older adult is trying to recall isn't enough. He also has to filter out the irrelevant information that is distracting. The problems with filtering through the distracting information may be what is the root cause of memory problems that too often accompany aging.

Think about this for a moment. If you cannot successfully filter out the distracting information, you cannot get at the information that you are trying to bring up from your memory-the information you do want to recall. It is not that you cannot remember something; it is, rather, that you cannot block or filter the extraneous information that is preventing you from remembering what you want to remember.

In the Berkley studies, the younger test subjects were able to more easily filter out distracting information that was not pertinent to the memory task than were the older adults. An interesting sideline to the Berkley tests was that not all of the older adults suffered aging-related memory losses.

The overall conclusion from the studies shows that older adults are able to focus on relevant information but are troubled with the diminishing ability to ignore distracting information, thus resulting in memory problems. They cannot recall the desired information because they cannot block extraneous information.

Memory Training with patients who do suffer some sort of organic brain disease shows promise for those with simple age-related memory issues. Memory training is shown to help some patients suffering from the early stages Alzheimer's disease improve their memories. This astounding finding points to the possibility of some sort of intervention for sufferers of this disabling disease as well as to the urgency for the earliest possible diagnosis.

Through the use of memory mnemonics, which uses images from pictures as well as visualizations to prompt the memory via a meaningful association, there was a significant improvement in memory in Alzheimer's patients on items that were included in the training program.

The most amazing finding was, through the mnemonic memory training, the patients were able to retain their memory improvements for up to six months after the training. These promising results apply not only to those who suffer from an actual organic brain disease such as Alzheimer's but also for those who suffer normal age-related memory problems. It also suggests that certain areas of our brain may be able to take over the functions of those area that are damaged through disease, injury, or simple, age-related memory losses.


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