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Memory – Development of Past, Future, and Self

For most people, memory is an automatic function, as simple as breathing. By making new connections, the cells in the brain respond to new experiences and record them. This process allows humans to have a past, a future, helps with the solving of problems, and even provides the tools to develop language. According to Professor Martin Conway at the University of Leeds, children cannot remember much before the age of five. Professor Mark Howe, at the University of Lancaster, has studied toddlers in order to determine when memory begins to develop. The tests have shown that children who have developed a sense of self can also form memories of events that happen to them, creating an "autobiographical memory."

MRIs have shown that the same part of the brain that remembers past events also functions in aiding future plans and dreams. Certain people, such as some of those who were born prematurely, never fully develop memory connection pathways. Hippocampi, parts of the brain that receive information regarding every life experience, are underdeveloped, and so past events cannot be recalled and future events are difficult to plan and remember. For these individuals, stuck in the present, routine and lists are very important to everyday functioning.

Memory, as a skill, keeps developing through young adulthood and reaches full potential around the age of 25. By then, the brain is processing over 200 bits of information per second. Unlike a computer, these memory bits cannot be deleted, but they can be changed. As memories are recalled, they become fluid and malleable, and new connections in the brain are made. Memory allows one to reverse time's arrow in a way – to time travel both into the past and the future.

The brain ages just like the rest of the body. Age changes memory as the brain begins to shrink, beginning in the 20s and continuing with each subsequent decade. Around the age of 40, brain cells are dying off around the rate of 10,000 per day. Not only are brain cells dying, but the brain's white matter, cables that allow different parts of the brain to communicate with each other, also decreases. Blood flow to the brain decreases with age, and the chemical messengers that carry information to the brain are also affected. With all this upheaval in the brain, the fact that humans cope so well and that memories are preserved is remarkable.

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can aid with keeping the brain healthy and functioning as it grows older. From chiropractic adjustments targeting the brain, allowing it to increase oxygen intake and moving the cerebral fluids that nourish the brain, to the various herbs and botanicals (See HCs 011255-447 and 021238-447) that also provide nourishment, those past memories can still be treasured, accessed to help plan for future events, and remind one who s/he is.

Lori Glenn,  Managing Editor