10 tips for improving your memory


Follow this advice to keep your brain sharp as you age.

Maybe you forgot to fill out a patient's medical records. Maybe there was a phone call you were supposed to return. Or maybe you're not sure whether you turned off your office light. If these nagging worries keep you up at night, it may be more than just a sign of old age.

Good general health habits help protect cognitive brain function and reduce the risk of serious mental health problems. These strategies, compiled with information from Harvard Health Publications, can help boost your memory as you age and decrease those “Where are my keys?” moments.

Believe in yourself. If you think having a good memory is out of your control, you'll be less likely to put in the effort to maintain or improve your memory skills. Believing that you can improve will keep you sharper.

Economize your brain use. Don't waste precious brain space on simple things like appointment times or where you put your wallet. Take advantage of calendars and planners, maps, shopping lists, file folders and address books and designate a place in your house for important items, like your purse, keys, and glasses.

Organize your thoughts. New information broken into smaller chunks (think hyphenated social security numbers) is easier to remember than a single long list. Divide information into smaller pieces, or notice patterns like repeated digits.

Use all your senses. The more senses you use when learning something, the more of your brain will be involved in retaining the information. So observe the smell or feel of something while your eyes take in an image.

Expand your brain. Try reading aloud, drawing a picture, or writing down the information you want to learn. Forming a visual image of something makes it easier to remember and understand.

Repeat after me. When you want to remember something you've just heard, repeat it out loud. For example, if you've just been told someone's name, you might say, “So Jim, where did you meet Pam?”

Space it out. Instead of repeating something many times in a short period, re-study the essentials after increasingly longer periods of time-first once an hour, then every few hours, then every day. In research studies, spaced rehearsal improves recall in both healthy people and those with physically based cognitive problems.

Make a mnemonic. Mnemonic devices are great ways to remember lists. They can take the form of acronyms­-like using ROY G BIV to remember the colors of a rainbow­-or sentences, like “My very earnest mother just served us nine pickles,” to remember the order of the planets from the sun.

Challenge yourself. Activities that require you to concentrate and use your memory can help maintain mental function as you age. Discuss books, do crossword puzzles, try new recipes, travel, and undertake projects or hobbies that require unfamiliar skills.

Take a course. Memory improvement courses are becoming more common. Select a course run by health professionals or experts in psychology or cognitive rehabilitation, and one that focuses on practical ways to manage everyday challenges.

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