Want to improve your memory? Check out these 6 tips
Can’t remember the name of your college roommate, the address of your childhood home or basic information from a class you took? You’re not alone.
Everyone has difficulty retaining information at times. Many people worry that lapses like these could indicate a deeper issue, but forgetting new information often has less to do with a serious condition and more to do with how we take in information to begin with. When we’re not giving all our attention to a task and fully engaging with material using all our senses, we’re less likely to be able to recall information later. Luckily, with awareness and practice, we can change that and improve our memories.
Context, what’s going on around us when we’re learning something new, is important for information retrieval. We rely on our senses – visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, taste – and emotional clues to help us retain information and form memories. Context may alter the strength with which people remember things and may enhance some aspects of a memory while deemphasizing others. A different context may bring up other, apparently forgotten, aspects of a memory, as well.
“It is thought that, in a way, you don’t remember the same memory over time, but rather, you remember the memory that is reinforced over time,” says Dr. Darren Gitelman, senior medical director of the Advocate Memory Center at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. “If the context shifts what you recall, and this modified memory gets strengthened over time, then eventually, what you may recall may be a memory that has been shifted by the context, rather than the original memory itself.”
As context shifts what we recall over time, it can make remembering specific details of people and past events more difficult. Context clues need to be particularly strong for us to retain information. Whether we remember a person, place or event many years later often depends on how much sensory information we took in at the time of the original event and how the information is reinforced over time.
“It is likely that the information we recall for a long time may have been enhanced in one or more ways. It may have been richly encoded because multiple senses were involved, or the information had a very important emotional context, or the memory was enhanced and recalled over many years,” says Dr. Gitelman.
The next time you want to retain information from a presentation or meeting to relay to your team, take in as much sensory data as possible. What do you hear? What do you see? Smell? Touch? How were you feeling? Creating that context may just help you remember the most important details from the meeting the next time your boss asked for the information ASAP.
Dr. Gitelman’s tips for improving memory:
- Avoid multitasking: When you’re trying to learn new information – and retain it – it’s essential that you focus on the task at hand and pay attention to what you’re trying to learn.
- Give information some context: Dr. Gitelman says it’s important to associate new information with something you already know. Try to connect new information to familiar words and images to make it easier to recall later.
- Add in additional sensory information: When learning something new, try to incorporate as much appropriate sensory information as possible. Take in what you hear, see, smell and touch to give the information more context.
- Rehearse information: Repeat new information over and over to process it. Over time, the information will become stored as a memory.
- Take care of your brain: If you want to preserve your memory, it is essential to make your brain’s health a priority. “Regular physical exercise, sleeping well and eating properly are all important to help our brains function at their peak,” says Dr. Gitelman.
- Keep an eye on memory issues: While forgetting things occasionally is normal, Dr. Gitelman says to pay attention to when memory seems off, especially in older adults, and to speak to your physician if you’re concerned. “There are many medications and disorders that can affect memory, and a person’s doctor may help to identify and correct a problem or, when necessary, refer the individual to a specialist.”
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.