Long-term memory is slightly more complex than short-term memory, storing not only memories of past experiences and events, but also skills and processes. Our advisor in memory loss, Helen Cosgrove, explains what long-term memory is, and why some people might experience long-term memory loss.
Although the definitions of these two forms of memory are not precise, short-term memory can be thought of as being there to help you through today, tomorrow and this week whereas long-term memory helps you remember skills and events to help you through months, years or your lifetime.
Long-term memory is more complex than short-term memory. In order to understand it better, scientists break it down into implicit and explicit memory.
Implicit memory involves remembering certain processes or skills such as telling the time, swimming or riding a bicycle. You may not have swum for many years, but if you are flung in at the deep end of a pool, so to speak, it wouldn’t take long for you to remember how to swim to safety
Explicit memory involves the thoughts and knowledge stored in your subconscious. These can be extracted into your conscious mind and working memory, if the right triggers are applied. For example, explicit long-term memory helps you recall episodes or events such as your date of birth or which country, city or town you were born in.
Head injuries or concussion – these can cause both short and long-term memory problems. In most cases both return rapidly as brain function returns, but problems may persist especially if the injury is severe
Psychological stress or trauma – this is seen in varied circumstances and may be found together with other aspects of post-traumatic stress disorder. In these circumstances, it is thought that the brain deliberately supresses painful memories in an effort at self-preservation
Severe dementia. At the initial stages, someone suffering from dementia may not remember what day of the week it is (short-term memory loss) but can recall events from their childhood. However, this pattern can change and if severe, dementia can cause loss of long-term memory.