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Sunrise Senior Living Blog

Positive Memories 'Last Longer'

As you get older, your memory capacity may begin to fade. Scientists are finding that the brain has ways of especially holding onto memories that are more positive. As you get older, it can become more difficult to remember things. In conditions such as Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, it's much more serious than the odd bout of absent-mindedness.

However, scientists are finding that the brain has ways of especially holding onto memories that are more positive, BBC reported.

Fading Affect Bias

Researchers have named this phenomenon Fading Affect Bias, or FAB for short. The effect was first hypothesised and studied in the 1930s, according to the BBC report. It was concluded then that negative memories fade faster, which could be attributed to unconscious self protection techniques. It could also signify that the brain has natural capabilities to promote happiness and, in turn, resilience. After all, human beings have a natural instinct to stay alive, and positivity has been known to improve longevity. 

In people with depression, positive memory retrieval is more difficult. Certain receptors in their brain provide obstacles to remembering good times. Clinical psychologist Dr. Tim Dalgleish told the BBC that, in these people, he used a method called loci, in which a skilled medical professional guides your senses into recalling positive memories. Once learned, people can participate in the mental "journey" on their own. In fact, if they make a habit of it, the results are quite successful. When the original subjects' attitudes were re-evaluated the next week after regular positive memory retrieval, they reported feeling happier and more at peace.

Encouraging positive memories

The Psychology Dictionary defines the loci method as one that was technically used for educational purposes to improve memory. It allows participants to more easily remember words by converting them into mental images and then associating them with where a person is when he or she originally learned them. Dr. Dalgleish used this method on people suffering from depression as a way to guide them to more easily retrieve peaceful thoughts. Here's how to do it:

First, identify a few positive memories from your past, whether it's a nice day on the beach, a fun birthday party or a relaxing night indoors. Next, imagine a route in your home or assisted living community. Maybe it's the path from your bedroom to the front door. You pass through the bedroom door, walk down the hallway, through the living room, and make it to the door. Take note of other key information like smells, colours and textures. Throughout this journey, you should begin planting your memories. For example, if you choose the beach scene, Dalgeish recommended imagining that the television showcases an ocean. Maybe it's projecting the sound of waves and the sea. If you do it correctly and put all of your senses into it, you should feel a moment of peace. And when you train yourself to imagine such scenarios in unlikely locations, your brain will be more likely to remember it every time you walk into your living room.

A spokesperson for Sunrise Senior Living, who run 27 care homes across the UK - each with a dedicated dementia care neighbourhood - said, "We can't comment on the specific merits or otherwise of the loci method, but we welcome any research that helps to understand memory loss and counter its effects."

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