January 11, 2003

'Scuse Me. Where is Memory Lane?

Last week while driving (probably to the "Green boxes" ... the DIY rural equivalent of the city dump) I heard a piece (on NPR, the only station we can get down in our valley) about memory. Specifically, the topic was a new memory-enhancing drug. What was unique about it was that it was not suggested that it be used therapeutically for Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. The tone of the piece was that this wonder-drug might be used prophyllactically or as a memory-enhancer for 'anyone who relies on memory in their everyday life or work'. Duh. That leaves out certain government officials, but the rest of us could sure use THIS STUFF! Right?

Sure we could. All of us (at least those of us who qualify for free coffee at Dennys) complain at one time or another about our 'poor memory'. Before I would start taking yet another pill (in addition to one baby aspirin, one multivitamin, and the occasional glucosamine when I can, er, remember to take it), I should use the memory available to me that I neglect to exercise. Like muscles, if you don't use memory effectively, to some degree, you lose it. Even our expectations that we are becoming forgetful can contribute to a measurable loss of memory. So, while I acknowledge that with age comes some degree of neurochemical change that takes the edge off my ability to remember, at the same time, there are countless adjuncts and tricks to better use what memory-potential I still have.

I tend to be a visual rememberer. So seeing something on a page (or computer screen) is helpful to me. I also tend to organize heirarchically, more or less in outline form; and my most important piece of software is Ecco Pro that is built on an outline design. The other tool I sometimes use, especially when laying out a complex plan or idea is a 'memory map'. This is really just an outliner that arranges things visually. You can download a free copy of one such mapping program called Mindmapper and see if it helps you with creativity or memory. But software is not necessary. Even a child can obtain memory improvement in a very short time.

When my daughter was in the 8th grade, she needed a project for a 4-H competition of some sort (I don't recall). At the time, I had just read the Memory Book. Having just started back to school again after 15 years of being on the other side of the podium, I needed help remembering the huge number of facts required to become a physical therapist. This book was helping me considerably. Why not teach my daughter to use these memory tools while she was young? What better foundation could one have than to build memory-muscle!

Within a short few days, Holli was able to stand before a group of parents and judges; ask the crowd for a list of 15 random nouns; look at the list outside the room for five minutes; then come back in, and say the list perfectly, in order, frontwards AND backwards! Amazing! Not really. It's all about attention-awareness and association. We don't remember because we never really attend to the fact (person's name, street directions, lock combination) in the first place! I'll let you discover the tricks in the Memory Book. Or on the net, look here and here for a good start. It is really easier than you think, and you will find that you are using your memory intentionally, like a tool, and see it get stronger in just a day or two.

Update 8:00am This entry was picked up by AllConsuming, found via its link to Amazon.com and the Memory Book reference. I had seen this site before, but this is the first time linked there, I think. Kewl.

Posted by fred1st at January 11, 2003 06:27 AM | TrackBack

I got a few visits from Allconsuming when I mentioned William Gibson's new book. Interesting concept!

Posted by: Anita Rowland at January 11, 2003 10:33 AM

Came across your site while compliling a list of geographic blogs.Bookmarked yours. Nice work.
Thought you might like this book (title/author /table of contents follow)
The seven sins of memory : how the mind forgets and remembers / Daniel L. Schacter.

Acknowledgments ix

A Blessing Bestowed by the Gods 1
The Sin of Transience 12
The Sin of Absent-mindedness 41
The Sin of Blocking 61
The Sin of Misattribution 88
The Sin of Suggestibility 112
The Sin of Bias 138
The Sin of Persistence 161
The Seven Sins: Vices or Virtues? 184
Notes 207
Bibliography 230
Index 259

LOC Call # BF376 .S33 2001

Posted by: J at January 11, 2003 11:58 PM

"We don't remember because we never really attend to the fact ."

Absolutely...as evidenced by the fact that I sometimes forget on which level I've parked my car at CDC (we now have a huge and rather Byzantine parking deck), but I've found that if I take just a few seconds to imprint the location in my mind before I make the walk up to the lab, I have no trouble finding the car eight or nine hours later when it's time to go drive home.

Posted by: Curt at January 12, 2003 07:32 PM

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