Teach yourself memory tricks

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As we get older our memory goes through changes. It is normal to have a harder time remembering… but some memory systems can actually hold up well – like primary memory that enables us to hold a phone number in mind while dialing it, long-term memory for facts (although we will experience progressively greater difficulty in accessing those facts), and procedural memory for activities such as playing golf, driving a car, or playing a musical instrument.

What falls off is our working memory, such as holding a complicated question in mind while working out a good answer, autobiographical memory which enables us to remember details of episodes that happened to us in the past, and prospective memory for something we intend to do, such as phoning a friend when we finish the task we are working on.

Some helpful memory tricks include:

  • Make associations between something you are trying to remember and something you already know. When you meet someone new, think about whom else you know with that name, or what that name means. If the person’s name is Rose, associate it with the flower.
  • Use visual imagery. Make a mental picture of something you are trying to remember. When you go to get a book from your bedroom, picture yourself picking it up from the night table.
  • Repeat new information, but be sure to do so at multiple spaced time points – repeating it over and over without a break won’t help. If someone introduces herself as Susan, say, “Nice to meet you, Susan.” Later on, use her name in conversation, such as, “How do you know John, Susan?” Do this a few more times and her name will stick.
  • Chunk information. Instead of trying to remember a phone number or string of information all at once, break it down into chunks.
  • Organize yourself. To avoid constantly searching for your keys or the remote control, always keep them in a logical place.
  • Pay attention. We’re more susceptible to distraction as we age, so you may need to turn off the radio when you’re trying to concentrate.

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