Linda Lewis Griffith

How to preserve your memory

Whether you’re an aging baby boomer struggling to remember a name or a Poly student cramming for exams, you want your memory to function at its best.

Below are eight tips for keeping recall razor sharp:

(1) Get adequate rest. Lack of sleep not only makes you grumpy, it impairs attention, alertness, concentration and problem-solving. According to Harvard’s Healthy Sleep website, a person who is sleep deprived has problems focusing and can’t learn efficiently. Sleep also has a role in consolidating memories, a vital component for learning new information. A study published in the June issue of Mind, Mood and Memory reported that participants who paired words and then slept soundly had significantly better recall nine hours later than those who learned the words in the morning, were awake all day, then were tested nine hours later.

(2) Treat your depression. Depression is often misdiagnosed as a memory problem because it interferes with concentration. Major depression increases levels of cortisol which, over time, damage the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory. Research conducted at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and published in European Psychiatry showed that people who suffered from depression experienced 8 to 19 percent atrophy in the hippocampus.

(3) Exercise. Moving is good for your memory as well as your body. A 2010 study published in the journal Brain Research found that physically fit 9- and 10-year-olds had larger hippocampi and scored higher on memory tests than their less fit classmates. And findings published in The Cochrane Library found that seniors who participated in aerobic exercise between two and seven days per week did significantly better in the areas of cognitive processing, visual and auditory attention and motor functioning than those in the sedentary group.

(4) Drink alcohol in moderation. Of course, too much alcohol diminishes memory. But there’s evidence that light to moderate drinkers score better on tests of memory and cognition than either abstainers or heavy drinkers. An animal study published in the Nov. 12 journal Antioxidants and Redox Signaling concluded that rodents consuming foods laced with red-grape Champagne remembered how to navigate a maze significantly better than animals fed a regular diet. A French study that followed 4,000 people older than 65 found that light drinkers who consumed up to two glasses of wine a day were 45 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s diseases than nondrinkers. If you’re pregnant or have a family history of alcoholism, it’s best to avoid all forms of alcohol. Don’t worry. The beneficial compound, resveratrol, is also available in grape juice.

(5) Engage all your senses. The more ways you interact with data, the stronger your associations will be. A study published online Feb. 26 in PloS One showed that students quickly forgot what they heard. But they remembered information they’d heard, seen and personally experienced. The bottom line? If you want to remember someone’s name, write it down, say it out loud and look at the printed words.

(6) Use visualization and association. Link what you want to remember with visual images you have handy in your brain. Let’s say you want to remember the wildflower, chicory, that blooms along the highway in summer. Chicory rhymes with hickory and brings to mind “Hickory Dickory Dock.” You visualize a grandfather clock standing amid blue flowers. A mouse on the clock completes your image. You won’t forget the name of that wildflower again!

(7) Practice chunking. Chunking is the act of breaking long, must-remember pieces of info into smaller, more manageable components. You do it unconsciously when you memorize a phone number: You learn the area code, the prefix, then the number. It also works with long lists. Memorize five items at a time until you’ve got them all mastered.

(8) Use environmental cues. Tying a string around your finger really works. It pairs a strong visual cue with an image you want to recall. The key is taking time to formulate the thought (“Buy a birthday card for Mom”) before putting on the string. Other environmental strategies include setting your garden clippers by the front door so you’ll remember to take them to the shed or placing a note on the dashboard of your car “Remember to pick up the dry cleaning.”