Poems often proclaim the eyes to be a direct window to the soul.
Medical researchers are more prosaic, but they make much the same point without the poetry. We now understand that the eyes provide a direct view into the health of your brain. Plus, you can actually use your eyes to improve your memory.
The eye-brain connection is why dementia is much more prevalent among people who don’t get their eyes checked regularly. Keep reading for more about this important topic…
Your eyes are a tipoff to the health of your brain because they represent a bundle of nerve tissue that is tied directly into the brain’s neurons.
This means that not only do cellular changes in the retina indicate changes occurring in brain tissue, but researchers have also found that activities you do with your eyes directly affect how your memory operates.
Keeping the Brain Well-Fed
One area getting a lot of attention from brain researchers is the health of the blood vessels in your eyes.
An analysis of the eye’s blood vessels gives a good indication both about your heart health and the state of the blood supply to the brain’s neurons. And adequate blood supply to the brain – providing oxygen and nutrients while removing waste products – is a critical factor for healthy brain function.
Tests at the University of California-San Francisco show that women in their sixties and older who have untreated retinopathy – a disease of the blood vessels in the retina – probably will suffer cognitive decline and blood supply problems in the brain if the condition isn’t put right.1
The researchers also point out that retinopathy is usually linked to diabetes or high blood pressure – and of course both those conditions are epidemic in our society – AND are known to be linked to dementia.
So screening for retinopathy can indicate if you’re in danger of developing these two problems even before they strike. And that could be used to help people alter their lifestyle before their health – and brain function – starts to plunge downhill.
The ten-year California study involved more than 500 women whose average age was 69 at the start of the research. They each took an annual cognition test that examined thinking processes and short-term memory. They also underwent eye exams and a brain scan in the eighth year of the study.
The women found to be suffering retinopathy scored worse on the brain tests and also had more blood vessel damage in their brains. On top of that, the researchers found extra thickening of the white matter that conveys signals in the brain – and that is NOT a good thing!
But there was a small bit of good news: the researchers did not find the women were at increased risk of Alzheimer’s – but all the same they had other neuro-vascular brain issues that impaired their brain function.
Use Your Eyes, Improve Your Memory
Along with providing insight into brain health, your eyes can be used to enhance your ability to retrieve information from your memory.
A study involving researchers in California and Canada demonstrates that when many people are trying to recall an event they’ve witnessed or objects they’ve seen, they unconsciously move their eyes in a way that mimics how they moved their eyes when the memory was formed in the first place.
It’s a fascinating little fact.
Plus, the scientists discovered that many older adults are particularly prone to using this memory-boosting strategy and that it’s effective at helping them remember.
In their tests, researchers found that after older adults were shown objects in a picture on a screen and then were shown a blank screen and tried to recall what had been depicted, they moved their eyes in the same movement patterns across the blank screen as when they first saw the objects.2 And they were not aware they were doing this.
This Could be Your New Memory-Boosting Trick
There’s more: both older people and younger folks used this technique more often when they were having an especially hard time remembering something.
I suspect it’s because they are mentally reliving where they were and what they were doing when the memory was originally formed. I do that all the time when I’m trying to remember something.
“The same way a person repeats the digits of a phone number to remember it, the eyes help the brain strengthen the memory by repeating the same pattern of eye movements,” says researcher Jennifer Ryan, a senior scientist at the Baycrest Rotman Research Institute (RRI) and a psychology and psychiatry professor at the University of Toronto.
The researchers are trying to develop a training method to teach people how to use eye movements for better memory. Meanwhile, you might try to make use of this discovery on your own. If you’re trying to memorize a picture, a scene or a set of objects, move your eyes in a particular way during your observation – for instance, repeatedly shift your eyes from left to right. Then, later, when you are trying to recall what you’ve seen, reproduce those same types of movement. That may help you remember better.