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Home /Science / How do our Memories Fade Away?

How do our Memories Fade Away?

By Dillon Wallace

Whether you’re a forgetful person by nature (guilty as charged) or you’re one of the lucky few with a steel trap for a mind, one thing is for certain.

Memories do eventually fade. So let’s find out why. But first, let’s see how memories are made and recalled in the first place.



Forming a memory

Every experience you undergo is converted into a pulse of electrical energy that moves along a network of neurons. Along the journey, our experienced information first takes a pit stop in our short term memory. This rest stop lasts anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes.

Next, the information is transferred to long term memory areas like the hippocampus before finally residing in several storage areas across the brain.

Recalling a memory

When our brain’s neurons communicate and meet using neurotransmitters, synapses are formed. Furthermore, when two neurons repeatedly meet the communication process improves and creates what is called Long Term Potentiation, which is considered to be a major factor in how memories are stored long term.

Fading memories – age

But what happens to certain short and long term memories causing them to fade or get lost? Age is one culprit. Why? Because as we get older our synapses begin to falter and weaken, affecting the ease in which we can retrieve memories.

But what’s behind this aging deterioration? Well, research has shown to credit a few theories. As we age, over time our brains will shrink. As a result, the hippocampus, you remember that important long term memory storage in your brain, loses up to 5% of its neurons every decade. Do the math, and by the time you’re 80 years old your hippocampus has sustained a 20% loss.

Additionally, most mental and physical health problems tend to occur as we get older. It’s not a coincidence that this physical anatomical deterioration has direct ties to our memories.



Why memories fade

Chronic stress

Chronic stress is another leading factor to our fading memories. Constant overloading of responsibility and stress puts our bodies in hyper alert. Well-balanced stress chemicals in the brain help mobilize energy and increase alertness, both very good things. Yet, chronic stress can overloaded these chemicals and cause them to flood our brain resulting in a loss of brain cells and an inability to form new ones.


Did you know people who suffer from depression are nearly 40% more likely to develop memory issues? Low levels of serotonin can make depressed individuals less attentive to new information or the recollection of stored information. Vice versily, dwelling on depressive past events can make a person less likely to store short term memories due to lack of paying attention to the present.


Isolation is another memory thief. As a form of depression, isolation doesn’t give our brain the mental workout that healthy social interaction does. Just like exercising your muscles to keep your body strong and healthy, your brain too needs a good workout regimen. You know what they say, “use it or lose it.” The same principle applies to our brains and memories.



But before you lose all hope that your memories are bound to leave you, take note that there are things you can do to preserve your noggin’s nostalgia. Start by staying active and eating well. Increased blood flow to the brain is helpful and providing your body and mind with the right nutrients can help it maintain functionality.

And, if those don’t work, you can always take the physical memories you do posses – old photos, cassette tapes, film reels and more, and digitize them. That way if and when your mental memory fades, you’ll still have physical proof of the memories and experiences you made along the way.

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