Age challenges memory but increases creativity
In ancient tribes, the elders of the tribe were considered wise and experienced, to whom young men and women would come for advice because ‘there is no one as wise as the one who has experience’. Contemporary culture on the other hand gives great weight to the present and youth – “the world belongs to the young”. Is the life experience and knowledge of an adult brain really an advantage or perhaps rather a disadvantage?When we try to access memory, our brain is required to quickly filter out all the information stored in it in order to locate the relevant information. As we get older, this filtering process becomes more complex. On the other hand, while the abundance of previous information can make memory retrieval challenging, an advantage can also be attributed to it – life experience can help with creativity and decision making.

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Adults find it difficult to suppress irrelevant information

Research thatEdited by brain researchers from three different universities: Columbia, Harvard and Toronto examined behavioral studies and brain imaging that showed that adults have difficulty suppressing irrelevant information and when they look for specific memory, they often recreate with it other, irrelevant memories. Studies have also shown that when given a cognitive task, adults rely more on prior knowledge than younger subjects. The study was published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

While the researchers focused mainly on the difficulties that memory overload may pose, they also stressed that in some situations these memories may have positive effects, for example, in relatively high level creative thinking and effective use of prior knowledge regarding decision making, based on experience and wisdom accumulated over the years.

An older woman works in a computer office | Photo: shutterstock

Less rapid retrieval more mental flexibility

“There are about 86 billion nerve cells in the human brain that encode the information we remember. The connections between nerve cells, called synapses, are actually the ones that create the memory pathways in the brain. Each nerve cell knows how to communicate with up to ten thousand other nerve cells. The connections in the brain are enormous, “explains Itai Aniel, an expert in developing strategies for improving memory.

In this regard, our memory activity can be described as a system of connections that becomes more and more ramified and complex as we absorb new information. The strength of neural connections directly affects our ability to extract information from memory and when the connections are weak (due to untrained information or other biological reasons) it is more difficult for us to extract the information from memory even though it is encoded in it.

As we grow older, the amount of new information we have absorbed and the knowledge we have acquired in the various areas of life over the years is greater and so has the amount of neural connections in our brains. “In the minds of adults, there are more search options for connections that represent knowledge acquired over the years, which may affect other cognitive functions such as decision-making ability, mental flexibility, creative thinking and more,” explains Aniel.

Elderly couple in front of computer (Photo: richard johnson, shutterstock)
richard johnson, shutterstock

According to Aniel, even when we experience age as a factor influencing cognitive abilities, there are a number of ways that will help us improve and strengthen them over time:

  1. Maintain a healthy lifestyle that includes proper nutrition, exercise and adherence to the amount and quality of sleep every night. Sleep is essential for creating new memories and preserving them in the long run.
  2. Do not stop learning – be constantly in the process of learning topics that interest us and acquire new knowledge. (Reading books, lectures, new language courses and more). In learning processes we create new neural connections in the brain and strengthen existing connections, thus influencing strengthening and improving memory.
  3. Focus on information that is important for us to remember in real time and neutralize distractions – Ask ourselves in real time: “What is important for me to remember from here?” This question will help us to be more attentive to information that is important for us to remember and significantly reduce cases of forgetfulness.
  4. Write concisely, in a diary, notebook or on a to-do page the information that is important for us to remember. Writing activates motor areas in the brain and helps us encode important information better in memory.
  5. Develop creative thinking through the question: “How am I going to remember this in a meaningful and interesting way for me?”. This question will help us develop creative and associative thinking as well as seek and find good solutions for remembering important information.Examples: “How am I going to remember where I parked the car?”, “How am I going to remember where I put the key?” Or “How am I going to remember locking the door?” Each of these situations can turn into a short workout to strengthen and improve memory.
  6. Learning from oblivion cases – it is recommended to document the oblivion cases (especially those that recur) and ask ourselves what caused them and how to avoid the next time. Through learning our cases of oblivion we will understand that in some cases we were not focused on information, other thoughts distracted us, we were not organized or we simply did not make a real-time decision to remember the information.
  7. Integrate thinking and memory games in daily activities. For example, bridge, trivia, sudoku, crossword puzzles, chess or any other game that interests us and at the same time helps us to strengthen and improve cognitive abilities.

By Editor

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