We’ve all done it at one time or another – you run into an old classmate or previous co-worker and you can’t quite recall their name.
You sit for an important exam and suddenly that math formula that you’ve studied for the last two months slips from your mind. Or you walk into a room to retrieve – now what was it I wanted? There’s no need to panic when your memory decides to shut down at the most inopportune time. Experts assert that with a little bit of practice and the adoption of some healthy habits anyone can improve memory.
John M. Grohol, PsyD, owner of Psych Central, offers some memory building exercises that can help enhance your short- and long-term recall.
He points out that the brain houses memory so it follows that taking care of your brain will help preserve those memories. Common tricks to keep your brain functioning at its maximum include doing crossword puzzles, complicated math games, Sudoku, and other activities that stimulate the mind.
Tips to improve your memory
To improve memory, Grohol suggests focusing on one task at a time. Although multitasking has become commonplace, the practice of juggling multiple activities reduces your ability to thoroughly absorb an incoming piece of information. He also recommends using your senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste – to form a connection with a thought. And it’s useful to repeat new information to help retain it, he adds.
For instance, when you are introduced to someone, repeat their name a few times to help it stay in your brain.
“Chunking” can be useful for the memory, according to Grohol. This involves breaking information down into small pieces, which are easier to retain.
Another useful tool is mnemonics, a 2,000-year old method of creating a “mind palace.” This technique connects a memory to a familiar place, such as the rooms in your house or a favorite walking or biking route. Creating an acronym (e.g., RICE = rest, ice, compression, elevation) or a rhyme can also establish a memory more securely in your mind.
For those who learn best by seeing, creating a “mind map” could be useful. Mind Tools explains that this process involves taking notes and then creating connections on paper between the thoughts. Also known as “concept maps,” this technique produces a picture that appeals to visual learners.
Whichever technique you adopt, Grohol points out that different people have different ways of retaining information, i.e., verbally, visually, aurally, so be sure to use the method that works best for you.
The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that brain volume peaks when a person is in their 20s and then begins a slow decline. But getting older does not necessarily mean that memory will automatically fade away.
Michael Marsiske, PhD, investigated the aging brain to see if cognitive training could help improve memory in the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) trial, which involved memorizing lists, reasoning, i.e., creating patterns with numbers or letters, and visual concentration. This training showed that short mental workouts improved an older person’s performance. Best of all, these gains were sustained over five years.
According to the APA, such studies are important to help unravel the underpinnings of memory. Findings help experts create programs and techniques that can foster brain activity in older adults.
Also, good dietary habits are critical for physical health, but they can also have a positive impact on memory. Health cited nine foods that might help preserve cognitive function and memory.
Oil-based salads; different types of fish, particularly salmon, mackerel and tuna; dark, leafy greens; avocado; sunflower seeds; and peanuts and peanut butter contain vitamin E and antioxidants that protect nerve cells. Moderate red wine consumption and eating berries and whole grain foods might help reduce inflammation and decrease the risk of brain diseases due to the nutrients they contain. Studies have also shown that vitamin B could also help boost memory.
Before memory lapses become a concern, why not take some proactive steps – grab a bowl of nuts and settle in with a challenging crossword puzzle.