Occasional forgetfulness can be a normal part of getting older.
You know staying active and eating well can help your body remain healthy.
And here are three things you can do today to improve your memory.
PICK UP A BOOK
One of the memory-building tools that is often touted is puzzle-solving, such as Sudoku or crosswords. While those things are good for your brain, a study by the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology published in Frontiers in Psychology found that reading a novel can be an even better way to preserve memory skills as you age.
In an experiment, one group of adults was given iPads loaded with engaging books, while another group was given iPads loaded with word puzzles. Each group was told to read or complete the puzzles for 90 minutes a day, five days a week.
Before the study began, participants were assessed for different cognitive skills, including working memory, which is the capacity to hold things in our minds while we move onto other mental activities, and episodic memory, which is being able to remember events.
After eight weeks, the participants were tested on the same skills. The group that read books showed significant improvements to working memory and episodic memory, compared to the group that did puzzles. According to the study, reading engages both types of memory. As we dive into a book, our episodic memory recalls what happened in previous chapters while working memory helps us keep track of what happened in recent paragraphs.
CALL A FRIEND
High levels of stress can cause myriad health concerns, including heart disease, high blood pressure, anxiety, and mental burnout. It can also negatively impact your memory. New research from the Youth Development Institute at the University of Georgia, however, found that low to moderate levels of stress can improve working memory.
In the study, researchers asked participants “in the last month, how often have you been upset because of something that happened unexpectedly?” and “in the last month, how often have you found that you could not cope with all the things that you had to do?” The researchers also asked participants about their ability to handle unexpected events that may cause stress and if they had support from their social networks.
To analyze working memory, they presented participants with a series of images and later asked them to recall if they’d been shown the photos before. In addition, an MRI assessed participants’ neural activation in different parts of the brain.
The participants who claimed they had support from family and friends also appeared more able to cope with low to moderate stress levels in a healthy manner. In addition, those who had low to moderate levels of perceived stress also had elevated working memory neural activation, resulting in better mental performance. The MRI showed that low to moderate stress can make the parts of the brain that control working memory more effectively do their job.
RELY ON YOUR SMARTPHONE
While it seems counterintuitive, reliance on your smartphone can actually improve your memory instead of draining it. Research from University College London (UCL) in the United Kingdom published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that storing information on a digital device frees up your memory and allows you to recall additional things of less importance.
The findings run counter to previous concerns neuroscientists had that an overuse of technology could cause what they called “digital dementia.” However, the study found that having an external “memory drive,” helps you remember the information you saved in the device as well as unsaved information.
In an experiment, the researchers gave participants a tablet loaded with a test that showed 12 numbered circles on the screen. They were instructed to drag high-value circles to the left and low-value circles to the right. Some participants had to use their own memory to remember which circles were considered high value, while others were allowed to store the information in their digital device. The participants who were allowed to record the information performed better than those who had to rely on their memory, even though they didn’t access the information during the test.
“Using the device shifted the way that people used their memory to store high-importance versus low-importance information,” said Dr. Sam Gilbert, UCL professor of cognitive neuroscience and senior author of the study, in a statement. “When people had to remember by themselves, they used their memory capacity to remember the most important information. But when they could use the device, they saved high-importance information into the device and used their own memory for less important information instead.”
Instead of causing “digital dementia,” external tools can improve your memory. However, Gilbert added this caution:
“We need to be careful that we back up the most important information. Otherwise, if a memory tool fails, we could be left with nothing but lower-importance information in our own memory.”
[Source: Fast Company Feb, 2023]
I make a shopping list each fortnight, then keep it in my pocket while I shop, only checking it before I go through the checkout. Most days I have remembered everything on it simply because I wrote the items down. Sometimes I forget one item, but seldom more.
Well done! This is a fantastic way to keep your memory working well for you. Firstly because it is a ‘real’ activity and secondly because there are annoying consequences if you have forgotten something!
My problem is that I have significant difficulty in reading. It takes me considerable time to read anything. Therefore I prefer to listen to books etcetera rather than to read them. Is that wrong?
Listening actively to a talking book is just as effective because you are still having to make connections between characters, plot and context. Or if it is non-fiction, the details and scenarios also have to be kept up with. I stress ACTIVE because I personally often listen to a talking book to get me off to sleep! (Then I have to rewind about 20 chapters to keep track of the story. Sigh!) So that isn’t helping my brain much at all …..
Thanks Gillian, you email is an eye opener for those of us who read a lot!!!
Really cheered me up.
I sent it on to a friend who reads a lot too, to cheer her up as well.
Found the logic and vocabulary tests easy but the bridge one and shopping list were hard so need to work on my memory a bit more. I write message lists and to do lists and have always done this so not sure I really need to remember lists. However, a game I play with myself is when, as Rotary Club secretary, I have to send out e mails to all members I do not use a group list but try to recall each member and add to the address list individually. Usually succeed so now may need another challenge.
I store a lot of useful information in my cellphone. Knowing its there means I can access it if I need it. The trick is to have it indexed so I can find it quickly!
The storage process will be creating memory traces to that information, too, so even if the phone is misplaced, you will be able to recall some of the entries. The indexing sounds like a key. What kinds of headings do you use, other than Contacts?
Reading requires such a lot of our brain and memory. Keeping track of characters, their relationships, clues in mysteries and contextual events in history requires a network of brain connections all firing as you read. It is only with very complex, historical novels that I sometimes find myself going back to the helpful family tree printed at the front! Weren’t we fortunate to have those times of sustained silent reading in school?
I could never concentrate on silent reading at school as I wasn’t a good reader and found it stressful and boring I loved learning poetry and reciting it aloud I was never diagnosed with dyslexia but am sure I have always had it I am 75 years old now and am always struggling to remember things particularly appointments and this gets me into trouble all the time and then I suffer from depression.
Agree Gillian re sleeping and talking books – suggest using timer in the app. I usually set it at a max of 30 minutes..
That’s a great tip! I will try that next time. Thank you!
I agree, Trish. Not everyone could cope with silent reading and maybe, at that time, not a lot was understood about dyslexia and other reading difficulties. What a gift to learn and recite poetry, though – I am sure you can still recall some of those now? My mother used to amaze us with her quite long recitations of poems learned in her school days and beyond. (Humorous Scottish poems were a favourite!) Forgetting some things at 75 is quite normal and absolutely NO reason for others to hassle you about it. Setting in place some strategies – have a whiteboard for appointments, set alarms on your phone, check your diary every morning – kept up-to-date, of course! You can overcome this!
Christine, I love the fact that you make remembering the lists a ‘game’ for you! That’s such an effective way to remove any worry or self-despair over forgetting. And it is strengthening your ability to increase the number of items you are holding in your short-term memory. (That’s the objective of Cross the Bridge and Shopping Spree.)