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Lecture 2: Declarative memory

In this step, we will look deeper into declarative memory, including episodic and semantic memory.
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For declarative memory, we have mentioned the difference between episodic and semantic memory. Here are more examples. From the point of patients,
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medical history is part of the episodic memory, because it’s about what patients have done in the past. In contrast, patients’ knowledge about treatment, such as what they learned from oral hygiene instruction, is about semantic memory. To tell this difference may be very important for clinical practice. For example, patients with Alzheimer’s disease may show deficits in their episodic memory, and that’s why we should be aware of the validity of their self-reported medical history.
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So do we have some good methods to assess one’s memory, such as a test to examine if a patient can recall things correctly? In fact, we all have done such a test in our school days! For example, we have all taken multiple-choice questions. What we need to do is to recognize the best answer from the choices. This is like a recognition task, in which we need to select the words that we have learned from a list. We have also taken short-answer questions, in which we need to put forward an answer without further cues. This is like a recall task, in which we fill in the words that we have learned.
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Now just try to recall what happened in your school days: was the multiple-choice question or the short-answer question more difficult? It may not surprise you that people show a better performance of keeping their memory in a recognition test, keeping their memory in a recognition test, compared to a recall test. And it may not surprise some of you that increased age is associated with a lower performance in a memory test and this effect is more pronounced when memory is assessed using a recall test.
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Before ending this part, I need to explain further the concept of ‘consolidation’, which is key to the formation of long-term memory. Remember the general framework of the memory process, we encode information and put it in a ‘storage’ site in the brain, which is basically the brain cortex. However, before the information is stored in the cortex, it is processed by the hippocampus first, which prepares the encoded ‘raw information’ for storage, a step known as memory consolidation. It takes time for memory consolidation. If consolidation is not completed, the information may be lost anyway, because it has not been stored properly in the cortex.
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This is why we have focused on the timing of brain injury: if brain injury occurs at the hippocampus during the stage of memory consolidation, the consolidation processing of information may be disturbed. And the information yet to be consolidated may be lost because it won’t get access to the cortex. Well, when it comes to memory tests, a recall task is usually more difficult because you need to list everything from your memory bank. However, we do not really list everything separately. More often, we recall something first and it brings out more answers! That is to say, we relate different things in a network so that we can recall all of them as a whole. This is of course a skill for examination.
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Now the same skill helps patient-dentist communication.
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For example, we have three options for prosthesis: dental implant, removable denture and crown-and-bridge. Patients may feel difficult to memorize all three types of prosthesis – they don’ have to. What is important is the relationship between these treatments, for example, the difference between a removable and a fixed prosthesis, and the association between the dental implant and crown-and-bridge. We can help patients to learn the network or inter-relationship between things, rather than isolated facts.

Declarative memory

In the previous step, we have mentioned the difference between episodic and semantic memory. We will display more examples in this step.

After that, we will indicate some good methods to assess one’s memory and explain further the concept of ‘consolidation’, which is key to the formation of long-term memory.

Before we move to the next step, we will bring up some skills that help patient-dentist communication. For example, we have three options for prosthesis: dental implant, removable denture, and crown-and-bridge. We can help patients to learn the network or inter-relationship between things, rather than isolated facts.

What kind of skill do you think may help to build a better conversation between dentists and patients? Share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments!

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Brain, Behaviour, and Dentistry

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