It’s frustrating when you draw a blank while trying to remember something you need to recall — now.
But it happens to everyone. The name of someone you just ran into on the street … where you left your keys … a phone number you’ve dialed dozens of times … the third thing in the list of three you were trying to tell somebody – the senior moments seem to proliferate as you get older.
Occasional glitches like these are perfectly normal, but who needs them? Here are simple ways to turn your memory up a notch when you need its help…
One quick method for helping you learn information is to say it out loud – not just read it silently from something like an instruction booklet.
Research in Canada demonstrates that you increase your chances of remembering something if you read it aloud. This study found that the double action of saying things out loud and then hearing yourself say them helps put items more securely into your long-term memory.1
“Learning and memory benefit from active involvement,” says researcher Colin M. MacLeod who heads the department of psychology at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. “When we add an active measure or a production element to a word, that word becomes more distinct in long-term memory, and hence more memorable.”
Plus, his other research shows that writing and typing what you’re trying to learn also helps improve memory retention.
Turn Up the Lights
Another memory-stimulating technique: Make the lights brighter in your house.
A study at Michigan State University shows that sitting too long in a dimly lit room can shift your brain’s structure and impede your learning abilities.
In these lab tests, the Michigan researchers discovered that dim light can compromise the memory capacity of the brain’s hippocampus, a key brain region necessary for learning. Bright light enhances memory.
According to researcher Joel Soler, dim light reduces the brain’s production of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which stimulates better connections among the neurons in the hippocampus. As you may remember from previous issues, experts see BDNF as one of the body’s most important chemicals for brain health.
“Since there are fewer connections being made, this results in diminished learning and memory performance that is dependent upon the hippocampus,” Soler says. “In other words, dim lights are producing dimwits.”
Please note as well that exercise is the most effective way to raise BDNF levels.
Taking it Backwards
One of the stranger ways I’ve heard for improving memory is to walk backwards.
That’s right – walk backwards. According to a study in England, walking in reverse can help you remember where you put your car keys or where you parked at the mall. That doesn’t just mean retracing your steps. The study shows that actually moving backwards (while being careful not to trip and fall!) can help bring you back in time – mentally speaking — and thereby help you remember a past event.
The researchers aren’t sure why this works, but their investigation indicates it improves recall.2 The theory is that walking backwards somehow gives your neurons a stronger wake-up call to better remember something you are trying to bring to mind. Apparently you don’t have to walk that far – anywhere from about six to a dozen backward steps should help. The researchers say the memory boost lasts for about ten minutes after you’re done with your backwards walk.
Other simple ways to improve memory include:
- Take vitamin D: A study at Rutgers shows that taking 2,000 IUs of vitamin D daily can help memory. But, according to this research, it also slows reaction time – which means it might make older people more liable to falling.3 I’d file this one under “needs more study,” but since most of us supplement with vitamin D anyway, we’re already reaping whatever benefit there may be.
- Take curcumin: When researchers at UCLA asked people with mild memory loss aged 50 to 84 years-of-age to take 90 mg of curcumin twice a day for 18 months, the result was improved memory and mood.4
- Drink some water: A review study at Georgia tech demonstrates that your attention span, coordination and adeptness at dealing with complex problems all suffer when you let yourself get dehydrated. As you get more dehydrated, your memory worsens and you’re liable to make more mistakes.5 And please be aware: dehydration is a common problem. A great many people don’t drink enough water.
Let’s face it, we’re all going to have those moments when something we’re trying to remember seems to hover just out of reach. But these memory tricks may help minimize those frustrating occasions.