We have all done it…walked into a room to do something or retrieve an object and just cannot remember why we walked into a room. If you haven’t done that, perhaps you have misplaced your car keys or cannot remember where you parked your car in a large parking lot or parking garage. Memory loss can be a sign of old age, a medical condition or just plain forgetfulness. While persistent memory problems and suspected head injuries should be examined by a physician, there are ways of helping to improve your memory in the comforts of your own home and during daily activities.
What is Memory Loss?
According to the National Institutes of Health, memory loss (or amnesia) is unusual forgetfulness. This forgetfulness may lead to the inability to remember new events, events that have taken place years ago or possibly both. Amnesia may come on suddenly or be a gradual process. For some, amnesia may be temporary. For others, the effects of amnesia can be long-term and permanent.
Causes of Memory Loss
Memory loss can have a variety of causes. There are multiple portions of your brain that are responsible for your ability to create and retrieve memories. Damage or malfunction of these portions of your brain can lead to memory problems.
Some of the most common causes of memory loss include:
10 Ways to Help Improve Your Memory
1. Drink in Moderation. While you may think drinking has a tendency to mess with your memory, drinking and improving your memory have an interesting relationship. Drinking too much will cause your memory to become fuzzy and leaving you second-guessing what you may have done or did not do the night before. This is evident in DUI testing. A DUI test shows that alcohol can have an affect on your brain’s ability to perform even the simplest of tasks including counting backwards from 10 or saying the ABC’s (all tasks we learn to complete at a very young age and tend not to forget). However, having one drink here and there may prove to increase your cognitive abilities. A French study found that individuals who drink in moderation (one drink per day) are more likely to do better on memory and cognitive tests that those who do not drink at all or those who drink heavily. Another French study also indicates that individuals over the age of 65 (who consume up to two glasses of wine per day) were 45 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than older adults who do not drink alcohol at all.
2. It could be Depression. This can often be mistaken for memory problems. One of the main symptoms of depression is very similar to one of the main symptoms of memory loss — the inability to concentrate. If you are having trouble concentrating at school, at work or during daily tasks, it may seem as if you are unable to remember things. Depression can cause an increase of cortisol in your bloodstream. Increased levels of cortisol in your blood stream can lead to elevated amounts of cortisol in your brain, which can lead to symptoms of memory loss. Due to brain imaging studies (including MRIs and CT scans) doctors have been better able to study how levels of cortisol effect the brain — including the hippocampus. One study conducted on cortisol in the brain indicated that 12 to 15 percent of individuals with depression has suffered loss of the use of their hippocampus. The hippocampus is responsible for short-term memory activities of the brain. Untreated depression can make it difficult for your brain to retain any new information — this can make work or school very difficult.
3. Participate in exercise. A lack of physical activity may lead to forgetfulness and problems with your memory. If you are having trouble remembering things at work or having difficulty concentrating, get up and take a quick walk. Exercise is good for the entire body — including your brain. Taking care of your body may also be able to help increase the functionality of your brain. Obesity (or being overweight) is a contributing factor to may diseases and conditions of the body that can have an immediate or eventual effect on your brain — including the development of Alzheimer’s disease or having a stroke. Living a sedentary live style can lead to a build-up of plaque in your arteries and blood vessel walls. This makes it more difficult for blood to be pumped to your brain. Clogged arteries can lead to more than just a heart attack. Your brain needs regular exercise to maintain a constant flow of oxygen and nutrients. When your brain is not receiving enough nutrients or oxygen, its ability to function properly is compromised. Numerous studies show that individuals who participate in regular exercise are more likely to do well on cognitive performance testing. What is regular exercise? The National Academy of Sports Medicine indicates that healthy adults should participate in 30 minutes of exercise, five days per week. Children (under the age of 18) should participate in 60 minutes of exercise daily.
4. Use visualization and association techniques to help improve your memory. If you have trouble remembering, try to remember this one fact: a picture is worth a thousand words. To best understand this technique, think about reading a story book when you were a child. Remember trying to visualize the characters? Or think about playing make believe when you were a child. Remember using your imagination to pretend you were at the beach or in a castle? You can use this same technique to help remember where you place things. For instance, set your glasses down in the rest room. Imagine you are cleaning them. Hours from now when you cannot find your glasses, remember that you were in the bathroom cleaning them. You ca also opt to use visualization techniques by grouping items together. For instance, try this technique if you have trouble remembering all of your items for work, create an image in your head that helps you link them together. Say you need your lunch, a laptop, your glasses and your ID badge. Remember that you need your ID badge to get into your office to use your computer. You cannot see if your screen without your glasses. If you cannot get your work done, you won’t have time for lunch. This may sound bizarre, but it can help!
5. Pay close attention to what is going on around you. Pay close attention to what others have to say during meetings or phone calls. Unlike an e-mail, you cannot refer to a phone call or meeting at a later date. If you need to carry post-it notes around with you, write key words or phrases that are likely to help you remember an important meeting or phone call later. Avoid day dreaming during important events or getting side-tracked. If a phone call or meeting is important, try to “forget” about your other worries until later so that you can devote your full attention to the task at hand.
6. Repeat what you are told. This works especially well if you are trying to remember names. When you are introduced to a new individual, try responding with “It is nice to meet you [insert the persons name here]. Numerous studies show that if you repeat an individual’s name back after first learning it, you are much more likely to remember it. To remember names, you can also try visualization and association techniques. Take note of where you met the person or features — such as beautiful blue eyes or long hair. By associating a particular place or feature with a person, you are more likely to remember their name.
7. Remember important digits by chunking numbers together. This works well for phone numbers, PIN numbers, social security numbers and license plat numbers. Try chunking all numbers just like you read off a phone number in sets of three to four numbers instead of a long 10-digit number.
8. Get more sleep. When you are able to devote eight hours each night to sleep, you will be able to think, concentrate and remember more the next day. You will be better able to concentrate on the tasks at hand rather than focusing on being tired, when you should get a cup of coffee or going home and snuggling up in your bed.
9. Use your environment to remember bits of information. This works similarly to tying a string around your finger without having to actual tie a piece of string around your finger. If you remember something in the middle of the night. Look at your alarm clock or nightstand and try to associate what you are remembering with that item, so that when you wake up in the morning you will associate your alarm clock or nightstand with what you thought of in the middle of the night. This beats getting up in the middle of the night to complete the task you remembered while relaxing in bed.
10. Practice makes perfect. You cannot improve your memory if you do not work on it. If you need to, make small games to help improve your memory. Break out a child’s matching game (card game). You can also opt to read an article in the paper and try to remember as many names and places in the article as possible. Spend five minutes completing another task and then try to write down as many names and places in the article as possible..that you remembered.
Watch this video for a few other methods to improve memory:
Ways to Exercise Your Mind
Keeping a sharp mind may be as simple as exercising your mind. In order to keep your mind sharp, you need to use it. Here are some ideas:
Diet and Your Memory
Improving your diet may just be able to help stimulate your brain and make you less forgetful. By now you are probably aware of the importance of eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. The National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends a diet packed with whole grains, lean meats, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. A healthy, well-balanced diet serves as fuel for your entire body — including your brain; giving the term “brain food” an entirely new meaning. Here are some foods that can help improve your memory, that you may not be aware of.
Vitamins and Minerals For Improving Memory
Vitamins and minerals have many attributes that can be beneficial to your overall health including improving your immune system, strengthening your bones and promoting the health of your joints. Another benefit of vitamins and minerals is aiding in the health of your brain — including the functioning of your short and long term memories. Here are some of the best vitamins and minerals for the health of your brain and memory:
Herbs for Memory and Mental Function
Herbs are another way to natural improve your mental function and memory. You should always talk to your doctor prior to beginning herbal supplements for memory as herbs may interact with any prescription medications you may be taking. Here are some herbs recommended by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to help improve mental function and memory:
Ginkgo is an extract made from the herb, Ginkgo Biloba. This is a well-established herb in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Research indicates that ginkgo may also be effective in treating and improving normal age-related memory loss. Ginkgo may also be able to enhance mental functioning in younger individuals. In six out of nine double-blind studies, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center indicates that Ginkgo Biloba extract was able to significantly improve age-related mental decline compared to individuals who were given a placebo.
The supplement phosphatidlyserine (also referred to as PS) has been widely used across Europe to treated individuals with varying stages of dementia. In one double-blind study (with 149 participants), PS provided to show significant benefits for those suffering from dementia. The individuals who saw the most improvement where those with the most advanced stages of dementia.
Ginseng is another popular herb that has been studied in terms of mental enhancement, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. However, it is important to note that the outcome of research studies on Ginseng have varied from trial to trial. In a 2 month trial with 112 healthy, middle-aged adults, results showed that individuals given ginseng saw an improvement in abstract thinking ability. However, reaction time, memory and concentration saw no noticeable difference between the participants who received ginseng and the participants who received the placebo.
When to Visit a Doctor
Unfortunately, we cannot always manage memory problems on our own. If you notice that your memory loss has started affect to your daily activities. A doctor can preform a physical examination, check your memory as well as your problem solving skills. Treatment for memory loss problems largely depends on the cause of your memory problems.
The National Academy of Sports Medicine’s “Essentials of Personal Fitness Training”; Scott Lucett; 2008
“The Vitamin Book”; Harold Silverman, Joseph Romano and Gary Elmer; 1999
Perkins AJ, Hendrie HC, Callahan CM, Gao S, Unverzagt FW, Xu Y, Hall KS, Hui SL. Association of antioxidants with memory in a multiethnic elderly sample using the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey . Am J Epidemiol 1999;150(1):37-44.