Friday, February 03, 2006

Free Memory Improvement and Mnemonic Fun

The following describes a humorous misadventure that was caused by being absent minded. We can probably all relate to similar events in our own lives.

"In August 1967, David Margetts played second violin in the Roth String Quartet at UCLA. He had been entrusted with the care of a valuable, vintage Stradivarius that was owned by the department of music. One day Margetts put the violin on his car's roof and drove off without removing it. UCLA made massive efforts to recover the instrument, but nonetheless it went missing for 27 years before resurfacing in 1994 when the Stradivarius was brought in for repair and a dealer recognized the instrument. After a lengthy court battle, the violin was returned to UCLA in 1998."

-Daniel L. Schacter Ph.D.
The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers

Everyone wishes they could improve their memory. You can be the sharpest tool in the shed, and yet be completely befuddled by forgetting an important fact, or action at the wrong time. Youth gives you some protection against the vagaries of a poor memory assuming you are generally healthy, but absent minded deeds afflict all ages. Unfortunately, lapses in memory have also resulted in injury or death. Businesses have been ransacked because someone forgot to "lock up". Nuclear reactors have failed because someone forgot to close a valve (Three Mile Island). Examinations have been failed because because someone didn't remember the right test date. Marriages have been threatened because someone forgot an anniversary, or birthday. Sound familiar?... Full Story

This concern with our memory has created quite a market for people in the memory aid business, but you can help your memory a lot without signing up for an expensive program or gimmick. There are good books out there on the subject, and I would recommend one by Kenneth L. Higbee, Ph.D. called YOUR MEMORY, How It Works & How To Improve it. He has an academic background, but discusses many practical exercises, and techniques to improve memory. I was blown away when I used the Loci Mnemonic system described in the book to memorize any long list of items. It dates back to 500 B.C., and was used by famous Roman orators to remember long speeches. There are two steps: First memorize a series of familiar locations in a logical order (rooms in a building etc.) You will use this set of locations each time you need to remember a series or list. Secondly, associate a visual image that identifies each list item with a location in the series as you take an imaginary walk past the locations. Use fanciful images for each item. I tried this once with a very long grocery list, and easily remembered twenty items after taking a few minutes to mentally place each item at a memorized house location (bread in the oven, cherries in a basket etc.) Try this and I guarantee you will amaze yourself with how many objects you can remember! The book discusses this in greater detail along with many other excellent methods.

Jessica Rowlands recently reported in Medical News Today a PET imaging study that indicated improved brain efficiency after subjects under went a memory improvement plan.

"New research released at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology's
Annual Meeting found that older Americans may improve their memory by making
simple lifestyle changes - including memory exercises, physical fitness, healthy
eating and stress reduction. The study was conducted at the University of
California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and funded by the Fran and Ray Stark Foundation
Fund for Alzheimer's Disease Research, the Judith Olenick Elgart Fund for
Research on Brain Aging, and the Parlow-Solomon Professorship on Aging."

Here is the memory improvement plan that could help improve memory function at any age:

* Memory Training - Brainteasers, crossword puzzles and memory exercises, which emphasized verbal skills, were conducted throughout the day to stimulate the brain.

* Healthy Diet - Participants ate five meals daily, which included a balanced diet rich in omega-3 fats, low-glycemic index carbohydrates (e.g., whole grains) and antioxidants. Eating five small meals throughout the day prevents dips in blood glucose levels and glucose is the primary energy source for the brain.

* Physical Fitness - Brisk daily walks and stretching were done daily to promote physical fitness, which has been found to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's Disease.

* Stress Reduction - Participants used stretching and relaxation exercises to manage stress. Stress causes the body to release cortisol, which plays an important role in memory preservation. Cortisol can impair memory and has been found to shrink the memory centers in the brain.

Now where did I leave those damn car keys?

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