Health Agenda

Physical Health

Total recall: tips for improving your memory

Constantly looking for your keys? Beat momentary memory lapses with a daily mental workout.

Fit&Well magazine
June 2014

Do you often have to double check you’ve switched off the stove before leaving home or forget where you parked at the shopping centre? You may worry your memory isn't what it used to be. And you may be right.

Fighting your mental age

"Due to the normal process of ageing, which impacts on circulation in the brain, memory can deteriorate in some people as they get older," says Associate Professor Julian Trollor, specialist in neuropsychiatry at the the University of New South Wales’ School of Psychiatry.

“This can lead to mild forgetfulness in relation to appointment times or items needed while you’re shopping,” he says. “It can also cause ‘tip of the tongue’ experiences, where you can’t quite remember a word or name.”

To keep your grey matter working effectively, a healthy diet and exercise are vital. “Making sure you exercise regularly, lose excess kilos, minimise alcohol intake, quit smoking and eat a healthy diet low in saturated fats, sugar and salt is pivotal to protecting your memory,” says Maree Farrow, a research fellow with Alzheimer’s Australia.

Brain training works

Keeping your brain muscles active through activities including reading, learning something new such as a language, completing brainteasers or puzzles such as crosswords or Sudoku, and memorising music may also help keep neural pathways and connections functioning, reducing the risk of dementia in the long-term.

Simple strategies to combat memory glitches

Problem: “I struggle to remember a small list of shopping items or tasks.”
Solution: Construct a story that includes all items on the list to link them by association. Make up a little rhyme or invent clues about what you need to recall.

Problem: “I forget the names of people I just met.”
Solution: Employ word association such as linking their name to a famous person with the same name.

Problem: “I can’t recall if I locked the front door.”
Solution: When leaving the house, vocalise your actions to reinforce your short-term memory. In your head, or out loud, say, “I’m switching off the heater” or “I’m turning off the iron”.

Problem: “I struggle to remember places I’m driving to.”
Solution: Take a mental snapshot of the route, noticing trees, colours and landmarks such as churches or specific shops. “These additional cues strengthen the way you save the memory and store it in your neural filing cabinet,” says Associate Professor Trollor.

Problem: “I can’t recall names of actors, movies, songs and so on.”
Solution: Use contextual cues, like remembering the last film you saw the actor in, or the cover of the album of the band you want to recall. Run through the alphabet – you might stop on a letter that suddenly stimulates recollection of the name.

Problem: “I keep losing my keys.”
Solution: Keep them in the same bowl or somewhere handy and place them there first thing after entering the house. A hook near the door is a great idea.

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