Memories define us. They make us who we are
— it can unite us or divide us.
– Melissa Batchelor, PhD, RN, FNP, FGSA, FAAN
We’ve all lost keys, forgotten contact details, or missed someone’s name. When you’re young, you don’t give these lapses much thought, but you may be concerned about what they indicate as you become older.
The numbers say that age-related memory impairment affects roughly 40% of older adults aged 65 and above, or approximately 16 million people in the United States. Furthermore, it is estimated that just 1% of these people will develop dementia each year.
If you’ve ever wondered about the different type of memories and how Alzheimer’s disease impact memory? If so, check out this episode of This Is Getting Old: Moving Towards An Age-Friendly World—The Four Types of Long-Term Memory.
Stay tuned and learn the different types of long-term memory, what to expect from memory as we age and how age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s affect memory.
Key points covered in this episode:
✔️ Get A Deeper Understanding of What Memory Is.
Memory as a concept is the ability to store and retrieve information when we need it. Memory can be categorized as either sensory, short-term, or long-term. Long-term memories are further classified as either explicit (conscious memories) or implicit (unconscious memories).
✔️ Why Do We Remember What We Do?
Our memories create our identities. The current thinking is that we remember experiences that will be important in the future – both positive and negative experiences – and help us with future decision-making.
✔️Learn More About Explicit Long-Term Memories
and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Explicit Long-Term Memories are either Episodic or Semantic. Episodic memories are events that happen to you and essentially make you who you are, compared to Semantic memories, which are general knowledge and information about the world, like a random fact for filling out a crossword puzzle.
Both Episodic and Semantic memories are affected by neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. More notably, Episodic Memories tend to be more upsetting and distressing to the person, family, and friends who share these memories with a person living with Alzheimer’s disease.
✔️Get to Know The Four Different Types Of Episodic Memories.
Episodic Memories are memories formed around a particular episode or event in your life and take time to develop and recall. They are formed consciously and deliberately. With this type of memory, you can vividly remember details – like our brains have recorded like a movie.
#1. Autobiographical Memory
These are recollections of events that happen to you in your life that make you who you are. For example, a childhood birthday party, a holiday spent with family, or a trip that you went on. You don’t remember the whole day, but you do remember moments.
#2. Emotional Memory
Like autobiographical memories, emotional memories often serve as learning experiences and remind us of who we are now and who we want to be in the future. These episodic memories are tied to an emotional response related to the event. Emotional memories are stronger and last longer than memories that aren’t connected to a strong feeling.
#3. Flashbulb Memory
Another type of autobiographical memory, flashbulb memories, is of traumatic public events. For example, depending on how old you are, you may remember where you were and what you were doing when President Kennedy was shot or when Pearl Harbor was bombed. You likely have vivid memories of one of these days that you have been able to hold on to – from the most important to the most mundane details – in a photographic record.
#4. Collective Memories
A Collective Memory is a narrative shared by an entire generation or group – these could be around flashbulb memories or any other type of episodic memory. We will all have collective memories of living through the pandemic. Some of those memories will be common flashbulb memories – for example, when COVID shut down the entire world.
✔️How Does Alzheimer’s Disease Impact Memory?
Alzheimer’s disease affects both short-term and long-term memory.
Short-term memory goes first, but problems will affect a person’s Semantic memory first when it comes to long-term memory. These problems often begin several years before diagnosis. Loss of semantic memory often shows up as word-finding problems or naming things; you lose your nouns first.
The hippocampus is responsible for transitioning a short-term memory into a long-term one, and Alzheimer’s disease slowly destroys this part of the brain. Destroying the hippocampus means your brain cannot form new long-term memories.
More Resources About Memory And Alzheimer’s Disease …
This Is Getting Old has several other episodes about memory and Alzheimer’s. You can check them out below:
- EP: 65 – What are the Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease? Part I: Symptoms of Early- and Late-Stage Alzheimer’s Disease
- EP: 66 – What are the Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease? Part II: Symptoms of Late- and End-Stage Alzheimer’s Disease
- EP: 64 – Alzheimer’s Disease and Living Alone: Four Signs Someone May Not Be Safe at Home Alone
- EP: 63 – Alzheimer’s Disease and Driving: Five Signs That It’s Time to Take the Keys
- EP 38: Ten Tips for Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease
If you have questions, comments, or need help, please feel free to drop a one-minute audio or video clip and email it to me at email@example.com, and I will get back to you by recording an answer to your question.
I earned my Bachelor of Science in Nursing (‘96) and Master of Science in Nursing (‘00) as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) from the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) School of Nursing (SON). I truly enjoy working with the complex medical needs of older adults. I worked full-time for five years as FNP in geriatric primary care across many long-term care settings (skilled nursing homes, assisted living, home and office visits) then transitioned into academic nursing in 2005, joining the faculty at UNCW SON as a lecturer.
I obtained my PhD in Nursing and a post-Master’s Certificate in Nursing Education from the Medical University of South Carolina College of Nursing (2011) ) and then joined the faculty at Duke University School of Nursing as an Assistant Professor. My family moved to northern Virginia in 2015 and led to me joining the faculty at George Washington University (GW) School of Nursing in 2018 as a (tenured) Associate Professor where I am also the Director of the GW Center for Aging, Health and Humanities.
Find out more about her work HERE.