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Your memory decline isn’t inevitable.

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Try to navigate without GPS, play chess & read novels for a sharper mind

As we age, our memory deteriorates. This is an ingrained assumption for many of us; however, according to neuroscientist Dr. Richard Restak, a neurologist and clinical professor at the George Washington University Hospital School of Medicine and Public Health, the decline is not inevitable.

Author of over 20 books on the psyche, Restak has many years of experience working with patients with memory problems. The Complete Guide to Memory: The Science of Strengthening Your Mind, Restak’s latest book, includes tools such as mental exercise, sleep habits, and diet that can help improve memory.

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However, Restaq goes beyond that familiar territory by looking at every aspect of memory — how memory relates to creative thinking, the impact of technology on memory, how memory shapes personality. “The purpose of the book is to overcome everyday memory problems,” said Restak.

Especially working memory, which sits between immediate memory and long-term memory and is associated with intelligence, concentration, and achievement. According to Restak, this is the most critical type of memory, and exercises to strengthen it should be done daily. But strengthening all memory skills, he added, is the key to preventing subsequent memory problems.

Memory decline is not inevitable with age, Restak argues in the book. Instead, he points to 10 “sins” or “stumbling blocks” that can cause memories to be lost or distorted. Seven were first described by psychologist and memory specialist Daniel Lawrence Schacter – “sins of omission” such as being distracted and “sins of committing” such as distorted memories. To these, Restak added three of his own: technological distortion, technological distraction, and depression.

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Ultimately, “we are what we can remember,” he said. Here are some of Restaka’s tips for developing and maintaining a healthy memory.

To pay more attention

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Some memory lapses are actually attention problems, not memory problems. For example, if you forgot the name of a person you met at a cocktail party, it could be because you were talking to multiple people at the time and didn’t pay enough attention when you heard it.

“Inattention is the main cause of memory problems,” Restak said. “That means you’ve coded the memory incorrectly.”

One way to pay attention to new information, such as a name, is to visualize the word. According to Restak, an image associated with a word can improve memory. For example, recently he had to memorize the name of a doctor, Dr. King (a simple example, he admitted). So he portrayed a male doctor “in a white coat, with a crown on his head and with a scepter instead of a stethoscope in his hand.”

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Find regular daily memory problems

There are many memory exercises that you can integrate into your daily life. Restak offered to make a list of products and remember it. When you arrive at the store, don’t automatically pull out your list (or phone) — instead, pick everything up from memory.

“Try to see the items in your mind,” he said, and refer to the list at the end as needed. If you’re not going to the store, try memorizing the recipe. He added that frequent cooking is actually a great way to improve working memory.

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From time to time get into the car without turning on the GPS and try to navigate the streets from memory. A small 2020 study found that people who used GPS more frequently over time experienced a sharper decline in spatial memory cognition three years later.

Play games

Games like bridge and chess are great for boosting memory, but simpler games are just as good, says Restak. For example, Restak’s “favorite working memory game” is “20 questions,” in which a group (or one person) thinks about a person, place, or object, and the other person asking the question asks 20 questions with the answer “yes” or “… “. no answer. Because, according to him, in order to succeed, the questioner must keep in mind all the previous answers in order to guess the correct answer.

Another tried-and-true Restak memory exercise requires pen and paper or a voice recorder. First, think of all the presidents of the United States, from President Joe Biden to, say, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who wrote or recorded them. Then do the same, from Roosevelt to Biden. Next, name only Democratic presidents and only Republican presidents. Finally, name them alphabetically.

If you prefer, try it with players from your favorite sports team or your favorite authors. The point is to engage your working memory by “storing information and moving it around in your mind,” Restak writes.

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Turn off the GPS and try to navigate the streets from memory.

 

Read more novels

According to Restak, one of the first signs of memory problems is the rejection of fiction. “People tend to switch to reading non-fiction when they start having memory problems,” he said.

In decades of treating patients, Restak has noticed that fiction requires active interaction with the text, from beginning to end. “You have to remember what the character was doing on page 3 by the time you get to page 11,” he said.

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Beware of Technology

Among Restak’s three new Memory Sins, two are related to technology.

The first is what he calls “technological distortion.” Keeping everything on your phone means “you don’t know it,” Restak said, which can undermine our own mental faculties. “Why focus, concentrate and make an effort to visualize something when a cell phone camera can do all the work for you?” He wrote.

Second, our relationship with technology is bad for memory because it often distracts us from the task at hand. “The biggest obstacle to memory these days is absent-mindedness,” Restak wrote. Since many of these tools were designed with the intent to create addiction in the person using them, we often become distracted by them as a result. Today, people can check their email while streaming Netflix while talking to a friend or walking down the street. All of this interferes with our ability to focus on the present moment, which is critical for coding memories.

Work with a mental health professional if you need to

Your mood plays a big role in what you do or don’t remember.

Depression, for example, can severely impair memory. Among “people who are referred to neurologists for memory problems, one of the main reasons is depression,” Restak said.

Your emotional state affects what memories you recall. The hippocampus (or “memory entry center,” according to Restak) and the amygdala (the part of the brain that controls emotions and emotional behavior) are interconnected, so “when you’re in a bad mood or depressed, you tend to remember sad things,” Restak said. . Treating depression—either chemically or through psychotherapy—also often restores memory.

Determine if there is cause for concern

Throughout his career, dozens of patients have asked Restak how they can improve their memory. But not all memory lapses are a problem. For example, not remembering where you parked your car in a crowded parking lot is completely normal. However, forgetting how you arrived at the parking lot points to potential memory problems.

According to Restak, there is no easy solution to find out what should be of concern. Much depends on the context. For example, you can forget the number of a room in a hotel, but not the address of the apartment. If you are concerned, it is best to consult your doctor.

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