The hippocampus is that part of your brain which is responsible for long-term memory and spatial navigation. It is located in the temporal lobe, behind your ear. You have two hippocampi, one on each side of the brain. The hippocampus is so important that when it is damaged, you may be unable to form new long-term episodic memories although you may still be able to learn new procedural memories or motor sequences of everyday tasks. Memory is not totally lost as you may still be able to remember events stored prior to hippocampus damage.
Causes of hippocampus damage
The hippocampus may become damaged or may shrink as a result of:
- old age
- major depression
- lack of oxygen to the brain
- herpes encephalitis
- chronic epileptic seizures
- head trauma
Symptoms of hippocampus damage
Your hippocampus may be damaged if you experience the following signs:
Avoid head injuries
A head injury may cause physical damage to the hippocampus. Some individuals develop amnesia after suffering head injuries in an accident. Wear protective headgear like helmets when engaging in action sports to minimise head injuries.
Consume a healthy diet
Studies show that a combination of chronic stress and a high-fat diet can damage the hippocampus. Unfortunately, most people who lead stressful lives react to stress by reaching for high-fat foods. This unhealthy combination is not only detrimental to your health but to your hippocampus as well. Reduce your intake of high-fat and deep-fried foods and consume more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to prevent the deterioration of your hippocampus.
Include physical activity
The size of your hippocampus is important to your memory. Studies show that as the hippocampus shrinks with age, an older person’s memory and other cognitive abilities also decline. Scientists theorise that memory loss in older people is due to the shrinking size of the hippocampus. Furthermore, recent research shows a high correlation between a person’s physical fitness and the size of the hippocampus. While you may not prevent hippocampus shrinkage entirely, you may delay its onset with regular physical activity like walking, doing household chores, and other light physical activities.
Learn to relax and reduce stress
Chronic stress triggers the production of stress hormones which are known to impair learning and cause damage to the hippocampus. While stress may be an inevitable part of life, you may deal with daily stress by maintaining a positive attitude, learning stress reduction techniques and setting aside time to relax and get away from routines and environments that are sources of stress.
Perform mental exercises
Certain parts of the brain such as the hippocampus may be easily damaged over time. Scientists maintain that mental exercise not only improves hippocampus health but also sharpens memory and delays the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Mental exercises are good for the brain as are physical exercises. Activities such as learning a new language, taking up a new hobby, using your non-dominant hand to do manual tasks, reading, playing card games, solving word or number puzzles and many other mental activities have been proven to improve brain function.