Short-term memory—closely related to “working memory”—is like a receptionist for the brain. As one of two main memory types, short-term memory is responsible for storing information temporarily and determining if it will be dismissed or transferred on to long-term memory. Although it sounds complicated, this process takes your short-term memory less than a minute to complete. For example, it is helping you right now by storing information from the beginning of this sentence, so that you can make sense of the end of it. More recently, scientists have begun to dive a little deeper into “short-term” brain functions and have added a separate (but similar) type of memory,”working” memory.

Working Memory vs. Short-Term Memory

Working memory is a newer concept than short-term memory. The two are often used interchangeably; however, working memory emphasizes the brain’s manipulation of information it receives (using it, storing it, and so on), while short-term memory is a more passive concept. Working memory is often thought of as the brain’s “scratch pad” that keeps information – a number, name, or whatever else – on hand just long enough to use.

Age and Short-Term Memory

As we grow older, the amount of time our short-term memory can store information becomes shorter and shorter. Age, and other clinical conditions, makes us more likely to have trouble keeping up with certain tasks, like remembering which button to push in a bank’s phone menu. It also gives our brains less time to successfully move new information to long-term memory, making us more likely to forget details of recent events. Incidence of memory lapse and cognitive decline are a normal part of aging. Although this is a normal part of aging, you can work towards slowing down the process by maintaining a brain-healthy lifestyle and keeping your memory active.

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