Do you experience “senior moments?” It seems like all our friends are having them these days. No, they don’t have Alzheimer’s, but they are having trouble recalling names, finding their keys and glasses, remembering their appointments, and coming up with the right word at the right time.
Dr. Gary Small, Professor of Psychiatry and Aging and Director of the UCLA Longevity Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, offers simple tips to improve our memories. He has also written a book, The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program. I am finding his suggestions very helpful and I am eager to read his book.
Dr. Small tells us that almost everyone has some memory decline by age 45 and our memory sharpness continues to decrease. However, if we exercise our memory, it will improve right away.
In the February Mind Health Report*, Dr. Small gives us a list of ten words, asks us to spend 1 minute memorizing them, then see if we can remember them 5 minutes later. The words appear totally unrelated. My first reaction was, “No way,” but the thought came to me that I could make up a story about them. I did and I not only remembered all ten of them after 5 minutes, I remembered them the next morning and the next night as well. I had stumbled onto Dr. Smal’s strategy of making a connection to each word and it was so simple. Here are the words. Try it yourself and see how easy it makes the task.
All kinds of people are encouraging us to keep our minds active: learn a new language; play bridge, sudoku, Scrabble, and cross-word puzzles; and memorize scriptures. My doctor has recommended that I memorize multiple telephone numbers.
Dr. Small recommends a focused technique that he has named “Look, Snap, and Connect.” Look stands for “focus our attention.” I am guilty of thinking of many things when I am introduced to a new person, but I fail to really focus on the person’s name. Snap tells us to “create a mental snapshot.” This is important because our brains are wired to remember things visually. Connect those mental images so they have meaning. By creating a visual picture of each of the ten words and “linking them together,” it was surprisingly easy to remember them.
The more detailed our images, the more unusual they are, and the more active they are, the more memorable they will be. Dr. Small urges us to keep to-do lists, but if we leave them behind, we can still make up a story with vivid images of each errand and connect them together so we can remember them.
When we meet someone for the first time, we must pay attention and stay in the moment. Search for a facial detail, a unique gesture, posture, or walk and find a way to connect it to the name.
Create memory places and be consistent about putting our keys in one, our glasses in another, but each place should be logical and convenient.
Final tips from Dr. Small were to practice deep breathing exercises to calm ourselves when we become anxious about failing to retrieve the name or word we are looking for. When it is “on the-tip-of-our-tongue,” we should jot down as many associations as we can to the word, title, or name that we are searching for. When we finally recall the word, we should write it down next to the associations and link the associations to the word.
Since my success in recalling the list of ten words and success in remembering telephone numbers that I have been looking up for years, I feel so much better about my ability to remember and I am excited about creating good memory habits for the future.
*Dr. Small’s memory exercises are detailed in The Mind Health Report, Vol.5, Issue 2/ February 2013, which is published by Newsmax Media, Inc. Their e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.