8 Tips for Memory Enhancement Part II

August 3, 2016 by  

Now that you understand a little more about how your brain deals with memory retention, let’s explore the habits you can espouse that will enhance that retention…..

  1. Brain exercises: Memory, like muscular strength, is a “use it or lose it” proposition. Therefore, the more you exercise your brain, the better you’ll be able to process and remember information. Novelty and sensory stimulation are the foundation of brain exercise, because they engage more neurons. So, if you break from your regular routine in a challenging way, you are then using brain pathways you weren’t using before and this activates new neurons.
  • Examples:  This can involve something as simple as brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, which activates little-used connections on the non-dominant side of your brain.  Or try a “neurobic” exercise – an aerobic exercise for your brain that forces you to use your faculties in unusual ways; such as showering and getting dressed with your eyes closed.
  • Neurobic Exercises: These brain activities involve one or more of your senses in a novel context. They engage your attention in a new way, break routine in novel or unexpected manner or establish new sensory associations.

      2. Learning Something New: This could entail taking a course in a subject you don’t know much about. This could involve being engaged in the arts…music, painting, dancing, etc. It could be learning a new game of strategy like bridge.  It could involve trying some recipes in an unfamiliar cuisine. Or finally it could involve learning a new language.

All these activities will engage your brain in new ways, using new neurons, and new pathways which make your brain more active and healthier…thus enhancing retention of new information.

      3. Learning Options:

  • Tailor information acquisition to your learning style: Most people are visual learners; which means they learn best by reading or otherwise seeing what it is they have to know. But some are auditory learners who learn better by listening. So they might benefit by recording information they need and listening to it until they remember it.
  • Involve as many senses as possible: Even if you’re a visual learner, reading out loud what you want to remember can help to reinforce the learning.  If you can recite it rhythmically, that is even better. Try to relate information to colors, textures, smells, and tastes.  The physical act of rewriting information can help imprint it onto your brain. This is likely why some people like to take notes when they are learning something new.
  • Relate information to what you already know: Connect new data to information you already remember, whether it is new material that builds on previous knowledge, or something as simple as an address of someone who lives on a street where you already know someone.
  • Use repetition to reinforce learning: We usually remember things that are repeated, so this can be helpful when studying something new.

      4. Mind Set:

  • Organize information: Write things down in address books and datebooks and on calendars; take notes on more complex material and reorganize the notes into categories later. If you use a tablet or smart phone to keep information handy, then enter your data in a convenient and organized fashion using your device.  Wherever possible, try to use both words and pictures in learning information as the pictures are also reinforcing so help memory.
  • Be motivated and keep a positive attitude: Tell yourself that you want to learn what you need to remember, and that you can learn and remember it.  Telling yourself you have a bad memory actually hampers the ability of your brain to remember, while positive mental feedback sets up an expectation of success.

      5. Eat Healthy: You probably know already that a diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and “healthy” fats will provide lots of health benefits, and, this sort of diet can also improve memory. Research indicates that certain nutrients nurture and stimulate brain function.

Let’s examine some of those beneficial and potentially problematic items:

  • B vitamins, especially B6, B12, and folic acid: Protect neurons by breaking down homocysteine, an amino acid that is toxic to nerve cells. They’re also involved in making red blood cells, which carry oxygen so provide us with the energy we need to perform whatever tasks we are doing.   Best sources: spinach and other dark leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, strawberries, melons, black beans and other legumes, citrus fruits, soybeans. Antioxidants like vitamins C and E, and beta carotene:   These nutrients fight free radicals, which are atoms formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. They also help with cell repair and healing.
  • Free radicals: These are highly reactive and can damage cells, you’re your antioxidants can interact with them safely and neutralize them.
  •  Antioxidants: Improve the flow of oxygen through the body and brain.  Best sources: blueberries and other berries, sweet potatoes, red tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, green tea, nuts and seeds, citrus fruits, and liver.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: These nutrients are concentrated in the brain and are associated with cognitive function. They count as “healthy” fats, as opposed to saturated fats and trans- fats, because they protect against inflammation and high cholesterol. Take an omega-3 supplement (at any age) if you don’t like eating fish.   Best sources: cold-water fish such as salmon, herring, tuna, halibut, and mackerel; walnuts and walnut oil; flaxseed and flaxseed oil.
  • Other supplements: Because older adults are more prone to B12 and folic acid deficiencies, a supplement may be a good idea for seniors.

Nutrients work best when they are consumed in foods, so try your best to eat a broad spectrum of colorful plant foods and choose fats that will help clear, not clog, your arteries. Your brain will thank you!

            6. Sleep: Sleep is necessary for memory consolidation. Sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea leave you tired and unable to concentrate during the day, so if you suffer from any of those conditions, it would be helpful to see your physician and find out what you can do to alleviate the issues.

            7. Not Smoking: Smoking heightens the risk of vascular disorders that can cause stroke and constrict arteries that deliver oxygen to the brain.       Lower oxygen levels reduce the ability of the brain to exercise rational thought and can also affect memory.

       8. Regular Exercise: This activity increases oxygen to your brain, and reduces the risk for disorders that lead to memory loss, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It may also enhance the effects of helpful brain chemicals and protect brain cells. In addition it helps to manages stress and Cortisol, the stress hormone, can damage the hippocampus if the stress is unrelieved which will greatly affect your consolidation process, essential to memory retention. And remember, stress makes it difficult to concentrate so it definitely affects memory in a negative manner.

Treating your body well can enhance your ability to process and recall information. So be sure to take care of yourself and follow the 8 tips offered above.

 

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8 Tips for Memory Enhancement Part I

July 27, 2016 by  

Memory is the mental activity of recalling information that you have learned or experienced. It is also a complex process that involves many different parts of your brain and serves you in disparate ways.
There are different aspects to your memory…..there are both short and long term memory centres in your brain which vary in how they operate and what they store for future use.

Short Term Memory is how your mind stores information for a few seconds or a few minutes: the time it takes you to dial a phone number you just looked up or to compare the prices of several items in a store.
This aspect of your memory is fragile, and it is meant to be that way. Here is why; your brain would soon read “disk full” if you retained every phone number you called, every dish you ordered in a restaurant, and the subject of every ad you watched on TV. Your brain is meant to hold an average of seven items at once, which is why you can usually remember a new phone number for a few minutes but need your credit card in front of you when you’re buying something online. Many of you can likely remember your Social Insurance Number because it is set up in groups of three digits, so even though that is actually nine numbers, due to its structure you can probably remember it.

Long Term Memory, on the other hand, involves the information you make a conscious or unconscious effort to retain, because it is personally meaningful to you.

For example: birth dates and anniversaries of family members and friends, work related procedures that you require to do your job well, or information you are studying in order to do well on a test. In addition, if an incident or experience made an emotional impression on you, such as a riveting movie, the first time you ever caught a fish, or the day a special relative or friend died, you are likely to retain this information.
Some information that you store in long-term memory requires a conscious effort to recall, such as episodic memories, which are very personal experiences you have had at specific times and semantic memories, which are certain factual data you have accumulated that are not bound to a specific time or place. Those memories can be anything from the names of the planets to the color of your child’s hair.
Finally, another type of long-term memory is procedural memory, which involves skills and routines you perform so often that they don’t require any conscious recall.

Just like muscular strength, your ability to remember increases when you exercise your memory and nurture it with a good diet and other healthy habits.

There are three stages that the brain goes through in forming and retaining memories.
I Acquisition: This is how new information enters your brain along pathways between the neurons (nerve cells) in the appropriate area of the brain. The key to encoding information into your memory is concentration; so unless you focus on information intently, it goes “in one ear and out the other.” This is why teachers are always nagging students to pay attention!
II Consolidation: If you have concentrated well enough to encode new information into your brain, the hippocampus (which is a small structure located in the centre of your brain) sends a signal to store the information as long-term memory. This happens more easily if it is related to something you already know, or if it stimulates an emotional response
III Retrieval: When you need to recall information, your brain has to activate the same pattern of nerve cells it used to store it. The more frequently you need the information, the easier it is to retrieve it along healthy nerve cell connections.

One more thing to understand…..your brain is designed to create new brain cells (neurons) as long as you are alive, but only if you challenge it to do so but learning new things and thereby opening up new neuropathways in your brain. In other words, always doing things in exactly the same way, rather like a robot, is not very healthy for your brain. Being curious and exploring alternate ways to conduct your regular activities or daring to learn new skills, even at an advancing age is the best way to keep your brain healthy. And a healthy brain will have better memory retention.

Now that you understand a little more about how your brain deals with memory retention, let’s explore the habits you can espouse that will enhance that retention.  In Part II of this blog I will give you the 8 Tips to enhance your memory.