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Can Memory Be Improved?
Most people complain about not being able to remember anything. They believe that their memory will never get better. There are, in fact, many ways to improve memory. Brain exercises, mnemonic devices, and staying healthy are just a few things that strengthen both short and long term memory.
Scientists divide memory into two main types: recall and recognition. Recall is used to remember something, like a telephone number you just heard. Recognition is being able to recognize that phone number in a list of other numbers. Sensory registry is a third type of memory, involving things that are only remembered for a few seconds. An example of this is remembering the color of a car that just drove by on the highway.
Three major structures in the brain are involved in retaining memory. The hippocampus processes most information. Emotional memories are imprinted in the brain by the amygdala. Long term memory is kept in the cerebral cortex. Neurons, a type of nerve cell, transmit memories through the brain.
The two kinds of memory people are most familiar with are short term and long term memory. Information stored in short term memory generally lasts for a minute or so. It’s used in everyday activities such as writing a sentence or having a conversation. Knowledge that accumulates in long term memory remains in the brain for several
minutes to weeks or even years. Remembering a friend’s birthday is an example of long term memory.
Sometimes people forget things simply because they don’t want to remember them in the first place. (The World Book Encyclopedia) Telling yourself you have a bad memory can actually interfere with your ability to remember. Dehydration is another cause for memory problems (www.nia.nih.gov).
There are numerous exercises that can help strengthen one’s brain and memory. Modifying your daily routine, like eating with your opposite hand, forces your brain to work differently. Getting dressed with your eyes closed and following a new recipe are other easy ways to exercise the brain. (Improving Your Memory) The game “Memory” is great for improving memory, as well as being fun for children and adults. Many older people enjoy crossword puzzles and Sudoku, which involve fairly rigorous brainwork.
Proficient memory skills are needed daily in school. According to a memory guide, one of the simplest ways to improve memory is by paying better attention; you cannot remember something you never learned. In fact, approximately eight seconds of intent focus are needed to thoroughly process information in your brain. Multitasking can take away from your ability to learn and remember. (Improving Your Memory) Have you ever wondered why teachers always advise students to not wait until the night before a test to study? This is because the largest amount of memory loss occurs soon after learning something new (The World Book Encyclopedia). “Over learning” and reviewing information can help retain it.
Many foreign language teachers recommend reading information (such as vocabulary) aloud as well as acting it out; it can be tremendously helpful. If more senses are involved, the more likely it is that you’ll remember something. Reading information is recommended for visual learners; listening to information is recommended for auditory learners. Writing information can also help you to remember it. That’s one of the reasons why we did “ten times each” in elementary school. If you wrote each spelling word ten times, you probably had an easier time remembering it on the day of the spelling test.
Mnemonic devices are recommended by scientists to improve memory. Associating familiar objects with dates can aid your studying for a social studies test. Musicians use the sentence Every Good Boy Does Fine to remember the order of notes on the treble staff. Acronyms are especially useful in the medical profession; OR (Operating Room) and ER (Emergency Room) are two common examples. Rhymes, alliterations, and jokes are more interesting ways to remember something. The method of loci, an ancient and practical mnemonic device, pairs landmarks located on a route you often travel with whatever needs to be remembered.
Maintaining good health is another key part of improving overall memory. Regular exercise increases the flow of oxygen and useful chemicals to the brain. A proper night’s sleep will support the consolidation of memory. Healthy foods not only assist in managing weight; they can improve memory now and in old age. B vitamins protect neurons and are involved in creating red blood cells, which bring blood to the brain. Spinach, broccoli, strawberries, melons, and citrus fruits are excellent sources of B vitamins. Antioxidants, such as C and E vitamins, fight free radicals that can damage brain cells. Blueberries, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, nuts, and liver are rich in these vitamins. Another nutrient that protects brain cells is Omega-3 fatty acid; salmon, tuna, halibut, walnuts, and flaxseed contain Omega-3s. Nutrients work more efficiently when they are consumed in foods. Supplements are a good substitute if you do not like foods that contain these vitamins.
Certain lifestyles can increase the risks of developing memory diseases like Alzheimer’s and Multi-infract dementia. Alzheimer’s starts out as forgetfulness and worsens over time because brain cells slowly die. Dementia occurs suddenly, usually because of a stroke. Unlike Alzheimer’s, the memory of people who have dementia can improve, if the strokes stop. Both diseases cause severe memory loss and patients have difficulty performing everyday tasks. (www.nia.nih.gov) Stress makes your body release a hormone called Cortisol, which can damage part of the brain that deals with memory. Smoking, high cholesterol, and excessive amounts of alcohol can also make you more prone to Alzheimer’s and dementia. (Preventing and Treating Alzheimer’s)
Depression, anxiety, and negative emotions can hinder memory. A study at Rush University Medical Center showed that people who usually experience negative emotions are more likely to develop memory problems than easygoing people. “These findings suggest that, over a lifetime, chronic stress affects the area of the brain that governs stress response. Unfortunately, that part of the brain also regulates memory,” said the study’s author Robert S Wilson, PhD. (www.seniorjournal.com)
A good memory is needed in all aspects of life, including school, work, and everyday activities. There are many easy ways to improve memory. A healthy lifestyle is a major factor in the quality of your memory. Mnemonic devices and brain exercises can enhance memory too. These things can improve memory now, and reduce the risk of developing memory diseases later in life.
Audiblox. Meadowbrook Educational Services, Inc. 5 May 2008
Church, Russell M. "Memory." The World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, 1962.
Epilepsy.com. 2008. Barr, William. 6 May 2008
Helpguide.org. 2008. "Improving Your Memory." Rotary Club of Santa Monica and WISE & Healthy Aging. 7 May 2008 < http://www.helpguide.org/life/improving_memory.htm>.
Helpguide.org. 2008. "Preventing and Treating Alzheimer's." Rotary Club of Santa Monica and WISE & Healthy Aging. 7 May 2008
"Memory Problems More Likely for People Most Easily Distressed." Senior Journal (2007): 14 May.
National Institute on Aging. 21 Aug. 2007. National Institute on Aging. 6 May 2008