Tips to fighting forgetfulness

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 6, 2002

Nowadays, I often hear someone chuckle ruefully and remark that they're having a "Senior moment" when they can't recall a piece of information.

It happens to all of us.

Regardless of age, we all sometimes have trouble remembering where we put something or recalling the name of someone we just met. Such forgetfulness can be merely frustrating, or it can be very upsetting, depending on your age and circumstances in life.

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Caregivers need to remember that forgetfulness in older people is sometimes the result of taking medications such as sedatives or blood pressure drugs.

Tension, stress, depression and alcohol abuse can also affect our memory

no matter how old we are.

Why is memory loss selective? Why is it that you can remember an incident from 25 years ago but forget what you had for supper last night?

One theory is that, with age, the brain produces fewer neurotransmitters; thus the process of storing and retrieving information is slowed down. Memory experts also suggest that early memories are stronger because they've been around longer; recent information has to compete for space with a lifetime of data.

Researchers on how the brain works offer some helpful strategies for strengthening your memory.

These tips may help you remember more effectively.

You have to want to remember. Registering information requires an interest in the information and a willingness to focus attention on it.

If you want to remember something that is happening or what someone is saying, tell yourself, "This is important. I want to remember it."

Use your senses to help you recall. Take account of your surroundings. Use all of your senses. Note a new person's distinctive facial features, voice and handshake.

Be observant and concentrate on the situation at hand. For example: "I parked my car at the front entrance of Sears, in the fourth row."

Practice improves your retrieval ability. If you want information at your fingertips, practice remembering it. For example, after you learn a person's name, repeat it to yourself a few minutes later, a few hours later and again before you go to sleep.

Develop clues to help you remember. For example, if you use your mother's initials and your son's date of birth to remember your license plate number, you need only call on the clues. Association games will help, too.

Develop a pattern. Keep the things you need-such as keys and glasses in the same place all the time. Follow the same routines for closing up the house, parking the car or handling your mail.

Write it down. As you think of things to do, write yourself a note. Tack your reminders in conspicuous places, so you will be sure to see them.

The best weapon against memory loss is mental activity. Think of your brain as a muscle that needs exercise.

Encourage your older friends and relatives to develop their observational skills, listen closely, take classes, work word puzzles and practice memory exercises.

Your memory is your picture of the past and it frames the future. Exercise it and use it to its fullest potential.