How good is your memory? How many phone numbers do you actually know (without looking in your phone book)? How often do you rely on computerized devices to remind you of meetings or even your best friend’s birthday? With more and more technology available we rely on our memories less and less.
Why do some people have better memories than others – are they just ‘brainier’?
According to research at University College, London ,master memorizers do not have a higher IQ than anyone else or any special brain structure1. However, they do use a technique to help them remember. When trying to remember a series of events or things they visualize a journey with specific items located at points along the way2. When recalling the memory they follow their path through the journey, seeing the items in their correct order, and are able to achieve a very high level of recall. Using this technique can help you remember names, events and tasks.
Associating words or tasks to images and then creating a picture in your mind can help you hold together all the components you are trying to remember. If this picture tells a story following it through can help you identify whether you have completed all the component parts – if the story doesn’t follow, you have missed something!
Keeping your mind healthy and active can help ward of senility and memory in later life. What can you do to improve your memory?
Association: Pavlov, a Russian psychologist, studied the link between events and memory. His experiments in the early 1900s examined the effect of ringing a bell each time he fed his dogs. Having done this a number of times, ringing the bell alone (without providing any food) was sufficient to start the dogs salivating for their meal. They had associated the sound of the bell with the provision of food. This kind of association has also been found to be true with humans. Smells can be used to evoke memories. If a certain odor is present while students are learning a particular subject, having the scent present when remembering the subject can increase the memory recall by up to 20%3.
If you are trying to remember something, try and associate it with another element that will remind you of what you have to do. For example, being in a particular place, seeing a particular color, hearing a specific song, wearing a ring on a different finger or smelling a particular smell.
Chew gum: Chewing gum may improve memory. Researchers at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle found that gum chewing improved many different aspects of memory, including learning mental and physical tasks and remembering learned information. It is thought that this is because more blood flows to the brain as a result of the chewing process4.
Eating well: A healthy diet, rich in antioxidants primarily found in fruit and vegetables can help improve memory. Brain cells get bombarded with many free radicals (damaging molecules), and antioxidants help combat the damaging effects of these molecules. Research suggests that by eating a diet high in these foods, especially blueberries and blackberries, you may be able to help protect your memory.
Use it or lose it: Keeping your mind and body active is essential for maintaining your memory. Dr Robert Butler, head of the International Longevity Center says ‘Just as keeping the muscles in your body active, to prevent them wasting away, so keeping the brain active helps prevent the loss of cognitive function’ 5.
There are many things you can do to help improve your memory. Stimulate your brain frequently by reading, doing the cross word, making an effort to remember people’s birthdays and mobile phone numbers, taking time to properly observe your surroundings, learning new skills (and rehearsing old ones) and practicing the process of successfully remembering things. Physical activity can also help; a vigorous walk can increase blood circulation in the brain, just as well as chewing gum! Remember, regularly using your brain will help improve your memory.
Motluk A. Master memories are made not born. New Scientist. 15 Dec 2002
Robbins TW, Metha MA and Sahakian BJ. Neuroscience: Boosting working memory. Science. 2000;290:2315-2319.
Young E. Pavlov’s people. New Scientist 29 March 2001
Wilkinson L, Scholey A, Wesnes K. Chewing gum selectively improves aspects of memory in healthy volunteers 1. Appetite 2002;38:235-6.
International Longevity Center. http://www.ilcusa.org