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An aging father experiencing tactile memory by holding hands with a young man.

Do you know how it feels to wrap yourself in a warm, fuzzy blanket? What about the feeling of squishing sand between your toes as you slowly wade into cool ocean water?

Those examples of sensory memory in everyday life illustrate tactile memory (or haptic memory), which is how your brain records sensations and feeds you information to process your surroundings.

It’s also how your fingers know which strings to pluck on a guitar or which keys to press on a piano. 

You tap into your tactile memory function when assessing the strength or force necessary for interacting with the physical world. 

But tactile memory differs from other types of memory — like echoic, gustatory, or iconic memory. [What are these? They need a definition.]

It’s a critical component of everyone’s development throughout all stages of life, starting in the mouth at infancy. [Needs more of an explanation] Within the first six months of life, we learn to recognize texture and shape and identify familiar objects using our hands. [Meaning when we use our hands as infants to put objects in our mouths?]

Unfortunately, we gradually lose tactile sensation as we age. It happens slowly. Our tactile sensation ability peaks at around age 17, then starts to fade throughout adulthood

Touch Memory and Aging

A lot changes as we grow older. Some of these changes, like career transitions or retirement, can be fun and exciting. Others, however, can be frustrating and difficult to manage. We lose strength in our muscles, our cognitive ability slows, and our senses start to fade. 

Our sense of touch is no exception. The result is a loss of critical memory functions that help us navigate the world. But how does this happen? 

There’s a variety of possible factors that could be the cause:

  • Decreased blood flow to the nerve endings, the spinal cord or the brain
  • Poor diet and a lack of certain nutrients
  • Brain surgery 
  • Cognitive issues, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia
  • Nerve damage from injury
  • Chronic diseases

There’s a wide range of symptoms, too, varying based on the cause.  

One prime example is decreased temperature sensitivity, which makes it difficult to tell the difference between extreme cold and heat. It’s a dangerous symptom that may seem rather pleasant at first. (Who wouldn’t mind living without the discomfort caused by severe temps?)

Eventually, however, this decreased temperature sensitivity can make elderly adults more vulnerable to burns or even hypothermia. 

Another possible symptom that might come with a decline in tactile memory and sensitivity is the limited ability to detect vibration and pressure, which in turn increases the risk of injuries. The receptors on the bottoms of our feet do a lot to help keep us upright. As they start to weaken, older adults may develop problems walking because of reduced ability to perceive where their body is in relation to the floor. 

Pain sensitivity can also change. 

After age 50, most people find their pain receptors start to weaken. And this might mean that problematic injuries go untreated because the pain isn’t overly bothersome. 

Sensory Memory and Touch Therapy

It’s clear that touch has a powerful influence on our cognitive function. Not only does it make almost everything in life more enjoyable, it also makes life more memorable. Touch and tactile memory even helps keep us safe throughout all stages of life. 

At The Moments, we believe in the power of tactile memory to keep residents feeling grounded and connected.

That’s why we regularly consider the sense of touch when formulating treatment plans and designing our facilities. It’s all in an effort to help our residents sharpen their cognitive abilities through trusted touch therapy methods and philosophies. 

Want to learn more about how we use the power of touch memory to help those with Alzheimer’s or Dementia? Keep reading here.

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