Don’t know what day it is or who said what at the last meeting? Blame the coronavirus



Shutterstock/pathdoc

Celia Harris, Western Sydney University and Catherine J. Stevens, Western Sydney University

We are all living through a major historical event, a once-in-a-century pandemic that has radically changed how we work, learn, travel, socialise and spend our free time.

But for many of us juggling working from home, schooling at home and Friday night Zoom drinks, this is a period likely marked by memory failures. We forget who said what, who was at which meeting, what tasks and appointments we have, and even what day it is.

Why doesn’t our memory serve us well in this pandemic? Anxiety may be one explanation, but another reason comes from the way our memory works.

How we remember things

Recalling specific details from particular past events – such as who was at last Friday’s drinks, and who was there the week before that – is a complex mental feat.




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Lockdown, relax, repeat: how cities across the globe are going back to coronavirus restrictions


To do it, our memory relies on distinctive cues, both to recall past events accurately and to remember to perform future actions.

Distinctive cues for a particular event might include the physical surroundings, people, tastes, sounds, smells, or the weather.

People sitting outside at a cafe.
Cues from the location can help you remember who you met there.
Flickr/Alex Proimos, CC BY-ND

We remember which friend was at drinks because we recall details of the location – the bar we were at, where each person was sitting, what we were eating, and so on. This context helps us place the right person in that situation when we recall it later.

We remember who said what in a work meeting because we can visualise where they were sitting. We remember what day it is because we have landmarks in the week that remind us: karate lessons, choir practice, Friday afternoon traffic.

Same, same, same

Unfortunately, the pandemic has erased many of these cues. Many of us have instead been spending time sitting at our computer when ordinarily we might be at work or elsewhere. And this could leave us less able to distinguish events from one another.

A man on his laptop in a video hookup with work colleagues.
When home becomes the workplace everything tends to blur.
Shutterstock/Kate Kultsevych

Our memories are designed to focus on things that are new or distinctive. This means we are more likely to remember events when they are accompanied by a change in our environment, such as an overseas vacation. Conversely, we tend to merge events that are broadly similar.

This is useful as it helps us keep track of events in a systematic and useful way, without needing to perfectly record all the details of every event.

But in lockdown we don’t have physical transitions to differentiate one event from the next. We no longer walk between meetings or commute from the office to home. Many different events now share the same context (staying at home), which means your memory tends to blur them together.

What can we do about it?

Once we understand that our memories are going to find the current circumstances challenging, there are things we can do to improve the situation.

One way is to make an effort to create distinctive cues where possible. Can we all wear silly hats for our Friday night drinks (or board meetings)? Can we hold work meetings for different projects in different rooms of our house?

Ask someone different each time to chair recurring meetings? Going for a walk during meetings where we only need to listen can create a new set of physical cues to associate with what is being said.

Another way is to rely more heavily on our external memory systems: diaries, calendars, notes and records. Accepting that our internal memory might fall short means we can compensate by deliberately using tools and resources to store the information on our behalf.

These systems can later act as contextual memory cues too. For example, we can add a screenshot to our video meeting notes to record who was there and their location on the screen.

A written note to remind you to take a photo each day
A screenshot or a photo can help create a reminder of an event.
Flickr/Pete, CC BY

These kinds of recommendations are often given to people who experience memory failures for other reasons, such as brain injury.




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But similar principles might help all of us whose internal memory resources are not designed for spending our time almost exclusively in one place.

When embracing external memory systems, it is important to ensure they are readily accessible and always accurate, so we can trust them completely and be sure of getting the reminders we need.

Working from home is the new normal for many of us. Developing new strategies that support our memory performance might help reduce the number of things we forget, and stop our recollection of the COVID-19 times turning into an amorphous mush.The Conversation

Celia Harris, Vice Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow, Western Sydney University and Catherine J. Stevens, Director, MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour & Development, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What is ‘cognitive reserve’? How we can protect our brains from memory loss and dementia



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Engaging in cognitively stimulating activities can help build your resilience to cognitive decline.
Gene Wilburn/Flickr, CC BY

Michael Ridding, University of Adelaide

As we get older we have a greater risk of developing impairments in areas of cognitive function – such as memory, reasoning and verbal ability. We also have a greater risk of dementia, which is what we call cognitive decline that interferes with daily life. The trajectory of this cognitive decline can vary considerably from one person to the next.

Despite these varying trajectories, one thing is for sure: even cognitively normal people experience pathological changes in their brain, including degeneration and atrophy, as they age. By the time a person reaches the age of 70 to 80, these changes closely resemble those seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Even so, many people are able to function normally in the presence of significant brain damage and pathology. So why do some experience symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia, while others remain sharp of mind?

It comes down to something called cognitive reserve. This is a concept used to explain a person’s capacity to maintain normal cognitive function in the presence of brain pathology. To put it simply, some people have better cognitive reserve than others.

Evidence shows the extent of someone’s cognitive decline doesn’t occur in line with the amount of biological damage in their brain as it ages. Rather, certain life experiences determine someone’s cognitive reserve and, therefore, their ability to avoid dementia or memory loss.

How do we know?

Being educated, having higher levels of social interaction or working in cognitively demanding occupations (managerial or professional roles, for instance) increases resilience to cognitive decline and dementia. Many studies have shown this. These studies followed people over a number of years and looked for signs of them developing cognitive decline or dementia in that period.

As we get older we have a greater risk of developing impairments in cognitive function, such as memory.
from shutterstock.com

Cognitive reserve is traditionally measured and quantified based on self reports of life experience such as education level, occupational complexity and social engagement. While these measures provide an indication of reserve, they’re only of limited use if we want to identify those at risk of cognitive decline. Genetic influences obviously play a part in our brain development and will influence resilience.

Brain plasticity

The fundamental brain mechanisms that underpin cognitive reserve are still unclear.
The brain consists of complex, richly interconnected networks that are responsible for our cognitive ability. These networks have the capacity to change and adapt to task demands or brain damage. And this capacity is essential not only for normal brain function, but also for maintaining cognitive performance in later life.

This adaptation is governed by brain plasticity. This is the brain’s ability to continuously modulate its structure and function throughout life in response to different experiences. So, plasticity and flexibility in brain networks likely contribute in a major way to cognitive reserve and these processes are influenced by both genetic profiles and life experiences.

A major focus of our research is examining how brain connectivity and plasticity relate to reserve and cognitive function. We hope this will help identify a measure of reserve that reliably identifies individuals at risk of cognitive decline.

Strengthening your brain

While there is little we can do about our genetic profile, adapting our lifestyles to include certain types of behaviours offers a significant opportunity to improve our cognitive reserve.

Activities that engage your brain, such as learning a new language and completing crosswords, as well as having high levels of social interaction, increase reserve and can reduce your risk of developing dementia.

Regular physical activity increases cognitive reserve.
Jenny Hill/Unsplash, CC BY

Regular physical activity also improves cognitive function and reduces the risk of dementia. Unfortunately, little evidence is available to suggest what type of physical activity, as well as intensity and amount, is required to best increase reserve and protect against cognitive impairment.

There is also mounting evidence that being sedentary for long periods of the day is bad for health. This might even undo any benefits gained from periods of physical activity. So, it is important to understand how the composition of physical activity across the day impacts brain health and reserve, and this is an aim of our work.

The ConversationOur ongoing studies should contribute to the development of evidence-based guidelines that provide clear advice on physical activity patterns for optimising brain health and resilience.

Michael Ridding, Professor, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Plinky Prompt: One of My Best Road Trips


Quite a number of years ago I went on a road trip of sorts with some friends through a number of NSW national parks, including Guy Fawkes River National Park, Oxley Wild Rivers National Park and Cathedral Rocks National Park. If memory serves, there were three cars on the trip.

The picture in this post is of Dangar Falls.

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Plinky Prompt: What I'd Do With a Million Dollars


‘Diabetes causes amputations’, warns poster

I do have something of a plan for when (or rather if) I have a million dollars. I would like to start a diabetes foundation in memory of a friend who died. My friend had diabetes and this would be a great way to remember her I think.

Obviously, there would be other things I would do with some of the money, but the establishment of a foundation would be very important to me.

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Christianity Fades in Great Britain Youth


According to research conducted in the United kingdom, Christianity is little more than a faded memory among young people in that country.

See more at:

http://www.christianpost.com/article/20101005/christianity-a-faded-memory-for-most-young-people/

 

Plinky Prompt – My Best Friend Rebecca: Why She is My Best Friend


My best friend is not around anymore. I would probably have not written about her tonight, except I have been thinking about her throughout the day. I have just felt a need to write something about her tonight.

My friend Rebecca died over two years ago now, but the memory of her continues fresh in my mind and in my heart. I miss her so, so much. I think of her often – there may be a smile, sometimes a quiet laugh, often there will be tears. Her place has never been taken by another & her place will always be her place.

I think this far down the track I am yet to say goodbye… I don’t want to say goodbye. I still hope that she is just around the corner and that we can continue where we left off. One more conversation, one more embrace, one more look – one more so much. But that would still not be enough.

I knew her – she knew me. We could talk with openness. We just went together so well. Her thoughtfulness, her heart, her being – Rebecca. That is why she was my best friend. She was Rebecca – she is Rebecca. There is no one like Rebecca to me.

I miss her so.

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Plinky Prompt: If You Had Unlimited Resources What Would You Create?


I would create a Diabetes Research Foundation. Why would I do this? Because I would like to do something in memory of my friend Rebecca who had diabetes.

What's My Favorite Summer Memory?


Summer is a great time of the year – I love it. Summer has generally been the best time for getting into the Great Outdoors and exploring Australia. Summer has brought me many great memories – so many that it is hard to place one as being THE favorite summer memory. However, there is one summer memory that means more to me now than a lot of others, for one particular reason. It was in a November (summer in Australia) a few years ago now, that I traveled to Gloucester Tops with Bec and we enjoyed the bush, the river and the waterfalls together. It was a special time. It is even more special to me now because Bec died 2 years ago (June 25) and this is one of the greatest memories I have and times I spent with her. It was a great day I will never forget.

Death threats await Christians in West Bengal


More than a year after a sudden outburst of persecution drove them from their village, a group of 14 Christians in West Bengal, India, still can’t go home, reports Gospel for Asia.

In July 2008, the Christians agreed to meet with a group of other villagers for what they thought was a routine gathering. However, the villagers turned out to be violent anti-Christians who immediately attacked the believers, threatening to murder them if they didn’t leave.

The beaten-up men and women made it to safety in a nearby village, where they found shelter with two Gospel for Asia–supported missionaries. Since then, the missionaries and their GFA leaders have been trying to work out the situation with village leaders and police. A local political party tried to help negotiate for the displaced believers to be allowed to return home.

Finally, on December 20, the Christians thought it was safe to return. So they cautiously went back, only to be called that very night for another village meeting. The memory of their last meeting was vivid, and the Christians approached hoping that this time, it would be different.

But just as before, the villagers waited to harm them. They beat the Christians mercilessly, forcing them to run once more for their lives.

Currently, the political party that tried to help the persecuted group is providing shelter for them and trying to find a permanent solution.

The GFA-supported missionaries and the believers urgently ask for prayer that God will work in this situation, and that His love will soften the hearts of the anti-Christians.

Report from the Christian Telegraph