The hippocampus is one of the most vital parts of the human and mammal brain. The hippocampus is present in the inner folds of the temporal lobe. It is often called the emotional brain or the child's brain.
Hippocampus derives its name from the Greek words, hippo (meaning horse) and Kampo (meaning sea monster) because it resembles a seahorse.
Hippocampus has a vulnerable structure that can be damaged by many diseases and conditions. Hippocampus is one of the distinctive areas where the generation of new nerve cells continues even in adult life.
What are the functions of the hippocampus?
- Formation of new memories about the experienced event
- Retaining memories
- Perception of direction and distance
- Functions of feeling and reactions
- Controls the endocrine system, fight or flight reaction
- Regulates the emotional behavior
- The thoughts get organized to memory here
The hippocampus helps the human to process and stores two kinds of memory:
- Declarative memories: This memory is related to facts and events. For instance, when you memorize speech or lines for a play, your hippocampus comes into the picture.
- Spatial relationship memories: They involve pathways or routes. For example, when you remember a path through the city, you use your spatial memories.
The hippocampus is where short-term memories are turned into long-term memories and stored at a different location.
What happens if the hippocampus is damaged?
Damage to one or both the parts of the hippocampus can lead to the following problems:
- Loss of memory.
- Loss of the ability to make new, long-term memories.
- Unable to remember things that happened shortly after any damage but may remember events that happened long before.
- Make it harder for the person to remember the directions to go to a specific place. They may not forget their childhood home and its route. However, they may forget new destinations and routes.
- May cause transient global amnesia, which is a specific form of memory loss that develops suddenly and resolves on its own.
- May be linked to conditions, such as schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What are the different factors that affect the functioning of the hippocampus?
Some of the conditions that may damage the hippocampus involve:
- Alzheimer’s disease: The hippocampus seems to be the first area affected by Alzheimer’s disease. In the later stage of the disease, the hippocampus loses its volume, and it functions poorly in daily life.
- Marijuana: Long-term use of marijuana or cannabis (weed) has been known to damage the hippocampus.
- Alcohol: Heavy alcohol use is related to the loss of hippocampal volume in many people.
- Epilepsy: Most people with epilepsies have a damaged hippocampus. However, there is a lack of evidence as to whether epilepsy is a cause or result of this damage.
- Depression: Severe depression leads to a loss in the volume of the hippocampus.
Other factors include:
- Age: Hippocampus shrinks by around 13% between the ages of 30 and 80 years.
- Stress: Stress can harm the hippocampus.
What are the ways to protect the hippocampus?
Exercise is one of the best ways to improve its functioning with rising age. The second way is to manage stress because it can go a long way. Activities like crosswords, solving puzzles, learning a new language, or reading may help protect the hippocampal cells from aging.