By: Tan Sher Lynn
Do you find yourself forgetting whether you have locked your car or the things you did just last week? As we age, the connections between our brain cells – called synapses, which are formed during the process of learning – begin to falter. This means that we have increasing difficulty in retrieving memories as we get older.
Fortunately, the human brain has an astonishing ability to adapt and change even into old age. This ability is known as neuroplasticity. With the right stimulation, you can increase your cognitive abilities, improve your memory and stay sharp. Here are some simple methods which you can incorporate into your daily life:
- Manage stress
Major or prolonged stress can have a negative impact on memory and concentration. Research suggests that major or on-going stress causes high levels of glucocorticoids. This negatively affects the area of the brain called hippocampus, which plays a role in memorising facts and events, making it more difficult to create long-term memories and access those that have already been formed.
There are various ways to manage stress, such as practising yoga, meditation or deep breathing. Try to schedule at least some time every day for yourself. Take a relaxing bath, go for a walk, read a book, or just sit quietly for a few minutes.
- Sleep well
Sleep is a biological necessity – we need it to survive. While your body rests during sleep, your brain is busy processing information from the day and forming memories. If you are sleep deprived over the long term, you are at risk of developing serious health problems and your ability to learn and retain new information may be impaired. Experts recommend adults should get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Some tips to get a good night sleep include: going to sleep and waking at a regular time, unwinding before bedtime, abstaining from food 2 to 3 hours before bedtime and creating a pleasant sleeping environment by making the room dark, cool, and comfortable.
- Take a Break
According to a study conducted at the Center for Neural Science, New York University, taking a coffee break after an important meeting or class may be just the thing your brain needs to digest new information and improve memory. Taking a few minutes to take a break every hour during work rests your mind and allows it to process information more efficiently. Give your body and mind the break they need so you can boost your memory.
- Make lists
Writing down what you need to remember or do is a quick and easy way to unclutter your mind and improve your memory. It forces you to pay closer attention to the information you need to remember while giving that information meaning by placing it an organisational scheme. When we are organised, it is also easier to find and remember the things that we need. Organising information also gives it meaning and makes it more memorable. You can make different “to do” lists for the day, for the upcoming week or weekend, and for the long term. Then use your lists to prioritise your tasks.
- Use Mnemonics
Mnemonics are tools to help us remember better and usually involves a visual image, sentence or word. The idea is to encode difficult-to-remember information in a way that is much easier to recall.
Some examples are:
Associate a visual image with a word or name to help you remember it better. Positive, pleasant images that are vivid, colorful, and 3-dimensional will be easier to remember. For example, to remember the name Violeta Fields, picture a woman standing in a field of violets.
Taking the first letters of the words you need to remember and creating a new word out of them. For example, the word “BIGBOY” helps you to remember the things you need to buy at the supermarket – Bananas, Ice-cream, Garlic, Broccoli, Oranges and Yogurt.
Breaking a long number or information into smaller chunks to make it more memorable. For example, a 10-digit phone number can be broken into a set of three: 013-777-3473 as opposed to 0137773473.
- Challenge Your Mind
Like your body, your mind needs regular workouts to maintain its agility. Research shows that constantly using and challenging your mind fights off signs of brain atrophy and enhances memory. You can learn to play a new instrument or learn a new language, do some brain teaser exercises or games which require concentration skills and critical thinking.
We are what we remember. Memory provides us with a sense of self and makes up our continual experience of life. So, it’s important to take the steps to preserve and improve your memory.