• Rob

Like a sieve?

I often have to ask my partner where something of mine is as I can’t find it. I believe I suffer from a bad memory, but oftentimes I am able to recall quite obscure information from my past that I have somehow managed to retain. This does not down well with my partner when I am able to recall people’s names from TV and movies that I watched 20 years ago but am not able to remember where I left my passport. I’m not sure why I have this selected memory loss; Age? Lifestyle? Genetics? Perhaps it’s a combination of all three.

As a result of this, I am attempting to improve my memory by trying out the below tips.

Stress ( can affect memory in numerous ways depending on the environment in which the stressor occurred. The release of adrenaline as part of the “fight or flight” response can lead to an increase in concentration, whereas the slower release of cortisol interrupts other important memory-forming processes. Stressor events that take place before efforts to form memories can lead to degraded recall, whilst an event that occurs shortly before or after gaining new information can actually enhance it. It is also important to note that stressful situations can lead to decreased ability in retrieving memories; relaxation techniques such as mediation, mindfulness and yoga may help with this.

Another approach to maintaining effective cognitive function is to “use it rather than lose it”. Integrating a variety of mental activities into your daily routine can really help with developing and maintaining your memory. This should be a combination of existing activities, e.g. reading fiction and new activities, for example, learning a new language. There is the additional benefit (of some activities) of increased social interaction.

Quality sleep helps to reinforce memories that are episodic; those associated with a time and place. There is also considerable evidence that REM sleep ( plays a key role in consolidating memories that are related to the learning of motor skills. Having a full night’s sleep soon after learning a new behaviour or competency can help to consolidate the processes involved.

The power of positive thinking should not be overlooked, as it can lead to increased memory performance; research conducted at Harvard University found improved memory performance of those aged 60 and over by subliminally showing them constructive age-related words - “wisdom, astute, mature” whilst those who were presented with negative age-related words - “Alzheimer’s, forgetful, confused” found their performance degraded.

The consolidation of memories is also crucial; if the brain doesn’t have enough “rest” then it can struggle to effectively consolidate them. Research undertaken by German scientists demonstrated that people achieved almost double the success in memory tests if they were able to take short breaks from the activity. Recently, neuroscientists have shown that some patients suffering from amnesia and a healthy control group were better able to retain lists of words if the activity was followed by a break period.

As I touched on above, the importance of an active social life with healthy social interaction can have a profound positive impact on our memory; having an active social life can help to delay loss of memory as we age. Having good familial and friendship bonds, charity volunteering and other forms of social engagement (sports clubs, hobby clubs, etc) can also help to preserve memory.

The effect of diet on memory has been disputed so should be taken with a pinch of salt (pun intended). Claims made about superfoods should be treated with caution but there are some studies that show that a Mediterranean-style diet may be linked to a decreased rate of cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and improved functional memory. So, increase the proportion of plant-based foods, decrease consumption of red meat and dairy and use olive oil as your main source of fat.



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