Memory is located in more than one place in the brain and is a complex process, which involves a number of skills and stages.
There are three key stages to memory:
Information comes into the brain from any of the five senses i.e. touch, taste, hearing, sight and smell. This information goes into the memory where it is held for a short time, usually a few seconds.
This information is processed by the brain and stored in the short term (working) memory just long enough to be used. It may be a few minutes, hours or days.
Information from the short term memory is processed and transferred into the long term memory where it can remain for a lifetime, and be retrieved when required. You may have problems with your memory if any of the above stages are not functioning properly.
There are five stages involved:
- Attention – information enters the brain. If you cannot concentrate on information it will not be understood and stored.
- Encoding – registration of information at the time of learning. Emotional events or things you are interested in are usually more meaningful and therefore processed at a deeper level and become attached to existing memory structures.
- Storage – once information is encoded it is stored in the long-term memory e.g. as in a filing system or catalogue.
- Consolidation – information is repeated or practised otherwise it will be lost.
- Recall – also called retrieval, it involves recalling information, which is stored in the long-term memory.
Difficulties can occur at any of these five stages.
Different types of Memory
- Immediate memory (sensory memory) – The first stage of memory where information is taken in through the senses.
- Short-term memory (working memory) – Information is stored here just long enough to be used.
- Long-term Memory – Memory for things that have happened to you in the past. It is sometimes also called
episodic memory or autobiographical memory e.g. your first day at work or your wedding day.
- Declarative/Explicit Memory (conscious) – Declarative memory is also known as explicit memory, as it consists of information that
is explicitly stored and involves conscious effort to be retrieved. This means that you are consciously aware when you are storing and recalling information.
- Implicit/Procedual Memory (unconscious) – This is remembering things such as how to ride a bike, how to switch on a computer etc. These activities involve automatic mental or motor skills, which can be retrieved and put into action without conscious awareness
- Prospective Memory – Prospective memory refers to a person’s ability to remember to carry out intended actions or do things in the future. It is remembering what to do and when to do it. Prospective memory can be for routine or novel events e.g. remembering appointments or planning a holiday.
- Episodic Memory – Episodic memory is the memory of every day events (such as times, location geography, associated emotions, and other contextual information) that can be explicitly stated or conjured. It is the collection of past personal experiences that occurred at particular times and places; for example, the party on one’s 7th birthday.
- Semantic Memory – Semantic memory is the recollection of facts.
Everyday Difficulties with Memory
Some of the most common difficulties experienced by people with memory problems are:
- Forgetting what they have been told
- Forgetting peoples names
- Forgetting where they have put things
- Getting lost in familiar and unfamiliar places
- Forgetting a change in routine
- Forgetting to do something important
- Forgetting whether or not they have done something
- Forgetting appointments
- Asking the same question repeatedly
- Repeating the same story over and over again
- Inability or difficulty learning new things
- Inability to recall events of the day before
- Tendency to become confused more easily
- Difficulty following a television programme or the plot of a book
- Forgetting to pass on important messages
- Inability to remember verbal messages or directions
- Difficulties following a map
- Inability to remember episodes from family gatherings or events from life
- Difficulties remembering people’s faces and where you’ve met that person before.