How to Improve Memory: Maintenance 101
Your memory file is the most useful diary you’ll ever carry. Don’t lose it. Sometimes I walk upstairs to get something, only to forget what I went for. I’ll look up someone’s phone number, then quickly forget it and have to look it up again. But, I can remember childhood antics from years ago. That’s because we have different storage file cabinets in the brain for short-term and long-term memories. Because different areas of the brain store different memories – a person’s name, how to ride a bike, how to dance the tango – aging can affect some memories but not others.
To understand how we forget, consider how we remember. Imagine you just met someone new. How will you remember her name?
The first step is encoding: the brain changes the audible version of your new acquaintance’s name into a neural code, similar to the way a computer translates alphabetic input into code it can store.
The next step is storage. You store a person’s name in your memory file cabinet so the next time you meet her you can greet her by name.
Last is retrieval, the ability to search through your file cabinet for the right name and to match it to the person walking toward you.
Information may be misplaced or stored in the wrong folder. Perhaps while being introduced, you didn’t pay enough attention to her name or were distracted by another conversation at the party. You didn’t store the information properly, so you can’t retrieve it. Or, maybe you stored the name in a file with other names and associated it with someone else, so when you meet again you greet her by the other person’s name.
Even properly stored memories can fade with time. If you haven’t seen a person for a few years, you may forget his name at the next meeting. “Use it or lose it” is true of memory too.
Just as physical exercise enhances muscle strength and builds a strong heart, mental exercise improves memory.
Techniques to Improve Memory
See what you think. First, flash a mental picture of what it is you need to remember, such as your car parked in section A, stall 20. The more outrageous your mental picture of A-20, the more unforgettable it will be. For instance, visualize a giant apple wearing a jersey from your favorite sports team with the number 20 on it. This way, you imprint in your memory “A is for apple” and number 20. Say you forgot your grocery list. Visualize a salad containing the items you’re shopping for: greens, salmon, capers, olive oil, and tomatoes.
As you walk away from the parking lot, put your mind in replay. After you visualize A-20 (a big apple wearing a jersey), rewind your mental recall of the steps you took to the car.
Step 1: imagine yourself driving to level A.
Step 2: visualize yourself driving into stall 20.
Make a Strange Association
You meet someone new and would like to remember her name, where she’s from, her profession, or some other detail. Suppose her name is Misty Quackenbush and she has six children. Visualize a misty morning and a duck quacking with six little ducklings behind her in a pond. Storing a person’s name along with a very picturesque and unique scene will help you retrieve it from your memory file.
Say you’re flying cross-country, and on boarding the plane you hang your garment bag and coat in the closet. If you’re concerned you may forget them, during the flight visualize what you’ll do to get off the plane: get out of your seat, walk up the aisle, reach into the closet, and retrieve the garment bag and coat. Rehearse this scene several times, and when it actually needs to happen it will already be imprinted in your memory.
Make a Reminder
To help remember you to take something with you when leaving home or work (for example, a shopping list or file), place a sticky note on the doorknob or on your coat, or someplace you must pass by.
Take Your Anti-Alzheimer’s Medicine
Neurologists are starting to speak the same preventive-medicine language as cardiologists. Both recognize the importance of L.E.A.N. (lifestyle, exercise, attitude, and nutrition) in prime-time health. Consider these scary statistics: 33% of people ages 75-80 and 50% of those over 85 may develop Alzheimer’s.
Nutrition deficit disorder (NDD) may predispose a person for pre-Alzheimer’s, or mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI means that you often forget where you put your car. One of the biggest steps in Alzheimer’s prevention is to identify MCI early and to take measures to prevent it or to keep it from progressing.
There is a growing consensus among experts that although Alzheimer’s cannot yet be cured, it can be prevented and slowed. While Alzheimer’s still remains somewhat of a medical mystery, recent research reveals that it results from chronic inflammation of the brain tissue. Alzheimer’s disease could be another “-itis” illness. Accumulation of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines weakens the synapses, the antennae that help brain cells communicate with each other. Continuous inflammation causes accumulation of sticky stuff called amyloid deposits, which trigger more inflammatory chemicals, leading to more inflammation and tissue damage. That’s why the best preventive medicine for Alzheimer’s disease is to slow inflammation.
Who is less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease?
A survey of scientific studies reveals that certain lifestyle and dietary factors can lessen your chance of developing the disease. The people who improve their odds of avoiding Alzheimer’s are:
- movers (runners, walkers, dancers, swimmers, etc.)
- brain exercisers
- fish eaters (more seafood, less meat)
- blueberry eaters
- nut eaters
- vegetable eaters (green, leafy veggies)
- waist watchers
- spiritual folks
Although chromosomal quirks have been found in the gene mutations of some people with Alzheimer’s disease, whether the switch on these genetic tendencies is turned on or off can be greatly affected by what you eat and how you live. Genetic tendencies are just that – they increase your risk of developing a certain illness if you don’t take the necessary precautions.