What Does the Hippocampus Do?

What did you do last night? Where did you put the keys? Who did you talk to on your way home? When was the last time you saw your mother? Can’t remember the answer to any of these? Are you being a little forgetful lately? Perhaps there is something wrong with hippocampus. Hippo-what?

The hippocampus is a small part in the center of your brain that is connected to the limbic system. The hippocampus has a paired structure. It has a mirror-image halves placed in the left and right sides of the brain. The hippocampus has a shape that strongly resembles a seahorse. And it is the very reason why the hippocampus is called such. Hippocampus is the Latin word for seahorse.

So, what does the hippocampus do? It is basically responsible for your memories and your spatial navigation. The hippocampus is in charge of forming new memories. It is critical in the forming, storing, processing, and sorting memories. It is also the hippocampus that helps in providing context for the new experiences or memories. It links the different, yet somehow related memories. And since it is part of the limbic system, somehow the hippocampus attaches the emotions related to these memories. Studies show that the hippocampus is critical to the learning and remembering of relationships that describe spatial layouts.

There are many illnesses associated to the hippocampus. Once your hippocampus is damaged, you most likely are suffering from anterograde amnesia. When you have anterograde amnesia, you can’t remember what has just happened recently. You can remember old memories, like things when you were still a kid. But you cannot form new memories. So, you remember what happened years ago but you can’t remember what just happened a few hours before. However, severe damage to the hippocampus could also lead to retrograde amnesia, meaning your memories that were stored even before the damage could also be affected. You may also lose old memories if your hippocampus has been severely damaged. Other mental illnesses associated to the hippocampus are depression, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s. It has been observed that in people suffering from depression and schizophrenia the hippocampus has shrunk. And those in the early stage of Alzheimer’s forget the day-to-day experiences but can remember years old of experiences.

Damage to hippocampus can also affect learning. Studies show that those with damaged hippocampus had a slower time in recognizing the pattern. However, it does not inhibit them from learning new motor skills.

It’s a good thing to know that the hippocampus is a part in the brain where new cells can be formed. There is also evidence of reversing and shrinking damages in the hippocampus and there are experiments involving the use of prosthetic hippocampus. So, all hope is not lost.

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