Michael is to 52-year-old male who was referred to me for memory problems. Michael stated that his wife has complained that he has become very forgetful lately. Michael also stated that he feels anxious due to the fact that his wife has threatened divorce, because he works too much and the thought that he may lose his job. He also explained that at times it’s very difficult for him to pay attention in class. He stated that his mind wonders allowing him to remember only main concepts and not the details of material. When an individual is experiencing problems which cause extreme stress and anxiety that Michael is experiencing – it can cause memory loss and what psychologist calls “flowing consciousness”. When an individual receives new information it goes to the sensory memory where it is coded then to the working memory for temporary storage and manipulation of the task. The working memory is a combination of attention, concentration, short-term memory and has a limited capacity (Cowan, 2005). Basic structure and function of memory can be explained through what is called the stage model theory that was initially proposed in 1968 (Mcleod, 2007) The stage model consists of three stages: sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory (Clark, 2012).
Sensory memory is the first stage of memory. Memories are stored here for a very short time approximately 3 or 4 seconds (Clark, 2012). Long enough for the information to be coded and sent to the short term memory (Clark, 2012). Short term memory is active memory or what you are thinking of at this given moment. It is also called the working memory (Ashcraft, 2001). Long term memory is information that is stored in memory, but mainly outside our consciousness (MRC, 1993). However it can be recalled through our working memory (MRC, 1993). The working memory has three components (Ashcraft, 2001. The main component is called the central executive (Ashcraft, 2001). It regulates and coordinates the flow of information within the working memory (Ashcraft, 2001). It also performs storage and processing functions. The second is the Phonological Loop (Ashcraft, 2001). This component stores verbal material (Ashcraft, 2001).
The third is the visiospatial sketchpad that processes material based on its visual and spatial characteristics (Ashcraft, 2001). There is significant evidence that stress affects the working memory (Luethi, 2009). For example, an individual’s ability to solve math problems, reading and retrieval of information from long term memory are all affected by stress (Luethi, 2009). Stress also affects an individual’s ability to accurately recall emotional events (Luethi, 2009). For example, the case involving Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson who was convicted of rape and spent 10 years in prison, because of the victim’s misidentification. Cotton was later released due to DNA evidence (Thompson, 2000).
“Psychological research findings show that many circumstances that lead to eyewitness testimony may be flawed and manipulated, says APA’s general counsel Nathalie Gilfoyle” (Azar, 2011). “It is no longer enough to make a conviction in our legal system today, because it is unreliable” (Azar, 2011). The limbic system is the part of the brain that is responsible for memory as well as feelings of pleasure (Bailey, 2012). It consists of two large structures called the amygdala and hippocampus (Bailey, 2012). These two structures play an important role in memory. The amygdala determines what memories are to be stored and where they are to be stored within the brain (Bailey, 2012). “The hippocampus is responsible for sending memories out to the cerebral hemisphere for long-term storage and when necessary an individual is to retrieve them” (Bailey, 2012). Stress can be very harmful for the limbic system as seen in this case. Michael is experiencing several of the affects.
For Michaels working memory to function properly it needs Michael’s ability to concentrate and be fully attentive and this is almost impossible when there is extreme stress. Michael is so stressed due to inward thoughts like his marital issues, the thought of losing his job, and memory loss which is a symptom of the stress and anxiety he is unable to give his full attention to anything else. He is only taking in bits and pieces of information, because of the stress and the thoughts that are causing the stress. Stress is the reason behind Michael’s memory loss. Michael also stated that it is difficult for him to pay attention and that his mind wonders. This is due to what is called “flowing consciousness”.
The brain will use this technique to take a break from the concentrated attention that is being given to the stress related issues that Michael is experiencing so it can focus on storing information in his long term memory. In other words his working memory gets over loaded and must shut down partially to store information from his short term memory to his long term memory. There are several strategies that would help Michael strengthen his memory for example, yoga, exercise, Keep a datebook for appointments and number one is to take care of his health and eat nutritious meals. The body cannot function properly when it is sleep deprived and is experiencing a lack of nutrients. We all experience stress in our lives at one time or another it’s almost inevitable – sometimes it just can’t be helped. But we can change the way it affects us.
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