One of the most frustrating things about getting older – and by older, we mean any age over 21 – is not being able to remember stuff. Whether it's an important appointment that slips your mind, or the name of the person you were introduced to 10 minutes ago, not being able to remember stuff is seriously annoying. We spoke to Elaine Slater, a psychologist with a client list full of media insiders, on how to keep your memory razor-sharp.
Grazia Daily: Is memory connected to intelligence or is it a completely different thing?
Elaine Slater: “Memory is the term given to the structures and processes involved in the encoding, storage and retrieval of information. While intelligence and memory are strongly linked, it’s not necessarily a good indicator of intelligence.”
GD: Are some people just born with a good memory or is that an old wives’ tale?
ES: “We are all born with a different capacity for memory, so yes, some people are just lucky!”
GD: Can you train yourself to have a better memory? What activities improve memory?
ES: “Modern lifestyle plays a significant role in contributing to cognitive decline - exposure to toxins, chemicals, poor diet, lack of sleep, and stress can all hinder brain function. Making lifestyle changes like sleeping well, exercising and trying to learn new skills can all help improve your memory.”
GD: Why is it we sometimes can remember things that happened years ago vividly, but we can’t remember things that happened yesterday? Do our long-term and short-term memories work differently?
ES: “Short term memory fundamentally differs from long term memory, with only short term memory demonstrating temporal decay and capacity limits. Long term memory, however, can store vast amounts of information and is permanent. If short term memory is consolidated and stored in the long term memory, it becomes permanently ingrained and accessible for retrieval. This conversion from short term to long term memory requires concerted effort, the passage of time, and the absence of interference in memory consolidation.”
“Ultimately the role of short term memory is to file information for temporary usage. If it is not consolidated, it is discarded. But once a memory is stored in the long term memory, it is stored forever.”
GD: When should we be concerned about our memory? We feel we’re quite forgetful, but when does it become a cause for concern?
ES: “Prolonged stress, poor diet, lack of exercise and a lack of quality sleep are a few lifestyle factors that impact and corrupt a healthy memory. Once lifestyle factors are ruled out, it is always best to consult a medical practitioner if you have concerns.”
GD: Does being constantly being plugged into our smartphones wreck our memory?
ES: “There is no conclusive proof that mobile phones damage your health. That said, if you suspect your memory is suffering as a result of frequent phone usage – cut down the time you spend on the phone and observe any noticeable changes or improvements.”
**GD: How can we retain more information – say, if we’re studying for an exam? **
“Different techniques can be used to retain the vast amount of information required for an exam, such as:
“1. Get organised – physically de-clutter and create order in your work environment.
Mnemonics - involves translating information into an alternative form that you’re easily able to remember.
**GD: How can we be better at remembering names and faces when we meet people? **
“1. Meet and Repeat – use the name of the person throughout your conversation
Spell it out – ask how to spell the name in order to create a mental picture, particularly if you have a visual memory
Make a connection – association can be helpful in making a connection between the person you’ve just met and someone you know with the same name.”
GD: What about if there’s something we want to forget about – can you train yourself not to remember something?
ES: “If you are suffering because of particular memories that trigger distressing emotional, psychological and physical reactions, talking therapy can help you to process and heal those unresolved issues and memories.”
GD: How does aging affect memory and what can you do about it?
ES: “As we age, the brain loses cells that are essential in the encoding and retrieval processes of memory. Overall, brain weight decreases and among the cells lost are those that produce neurotransmitters, causing the connections between the synapses to weaken. The extent of memory deterioration, however, depends upon a variety of factors and can even be reversed to some degree. A healthy diet, low stress levels and physical exercise can significantly reduce the effect of ageing on memory.”
“Continued mental stimulation is vital; reading, drawing and doing puzzles can stimulate the growth of dendrites - the branch-like extensions from the nerve cells that maintain strong connections between the cells. Treat the brain like any other muscle – use it or lose it.”