Last week we looked at some of the causes for people’s memory to “slip”. These included medication side effects, ageing, medical conditions, and unhealthy lifestyle choices. By addressing the underlying cause, it is possible that memory can be improved. For example, if medications are responsible for the memory problem, discontinuing or changing medications can have a beneficial effect. Even memory deficits related to getting older can be helped. This occurs through a process known as “neuroplasticity” that allows the brain to form new pathways or alter existing connections. Today we’ll look at a few “tricks” for boosting memory as well as some of the supplements that have been touted to help.
Challenge your mind. The saying “use it or lose it” applies equally well to the mind as it does to our muscles. The more you work out your brain, the better you’ll be able to remember information. One scientific study showed that older Americans can improve their memory by instituting a memory-improvement plan that included regular mental exercises, such as working crossword puzzles. A second study found that elderly individuals who frequently engaged in leisure activities such as reading, playing board games, playing a musical instrument, or dancing were less likely to develop dementia in the future. The best brain exercising activities challenge you to develop and use new brain pathways. Activities that appear to be particularly helpful include those that are new or unfamiliar and those that take some mental effort to perform.
- Put frequently misplaced items, such as your wallet or purse, keys, and glasses in the same place each day.
- Use a date book or electronic organizer to keep track of appointments, telephone numbers, or “things to do”.
- Repeat the names of people when you meet them.
- Use mnemonics to help you remember. In a name mnemonic, the first letter of each word in a list of items is used to form a name of a person or thing. For example, using the first letter of the colors of the spectrum makes the name, Roy G. Biv.
- Visual association operates on the contention that to remember a new piece of information, it helps to associate it with something else. For example, to remember that Robert’s last name is Green, you could visualize him wearing green clothes while putting a green ball on a golf green.
- “Chunking” breaks a long list of numbers, such as a telephone number, or other types of information into smaller, more manageable chunks. A common example involves breaking down a 10-digit telephone number in to three sets of numbers.
- Remembering by Not Trying. Sometimes trying to remember too hard can inhibit memory. Performing a relaxation technique, such as deep breathing, or just thinking about something else can help bring a buried thought to the surface.
- Rhyming is one of the oldest methods in memorization. The rhyme “30 days hath September, April, June, and November…” is a well known examples of this technique to remember the number of days in each month.
Will taking supplements help with memory? Despite claims that various products can improve memory, the research supporting the use of most of these is suggestive at best. The following are some of the memory-promoting supplements that you may have heard about:
- Ginkgo Biloba – While some smaller studies of ginkgo for memory enhancement have had promising results, the larger, more rigorously conducted studies have not shown a beneficial effect. Additionally, a study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine found it ineffective in lowering the overall incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly.
- Sage – Two small studies suggest that taking black sage (Salvia officinalis) or broad-leafed sage (Salvia lavandulaefolia) may improve mood and mental performance in healthy young people and memory in older adults. Results of another small clinical study suggests that sage extract was better than placebo at enhancing thinking and learning in older adults with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
- Prevagen (apoaequorin) – Marketed as a “memory loss supplement”, apoaequorin is a protein derived from jellyfish. Its distributor claims that taking Prevagen will help to improve memory loss and protect the brain by keeping cells alive longer. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any compelling scientific evidence to support the manufacturer’s claims.