Think of those times when you’re in a rush to leave the house and you can’t find your keys and phone. Or better still, when you drive all the way to the supermarket, but can’t remember what you went there to buy. It seems we’re all forgetting stuff these days.
Not being able to recall phone numbers, birthdays or shopping lists isn’t just a nuisance. It can also be a worry, particularly with cases of early onset dementia on the rise. But before you get carried away, it might be worth listening to the experts, many of whom believe that having a sieve-like brain is a symptom of something far simpler.
What can you do to make yourself remember more effectively? Yvonne Spijkerman, a neuro occupational therapist and director of Circle Case Management, who works with people with acquired brain injury, has a mantra when it comes to forgetfulness. “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” she says. “Put another way, if you rely on Google, you’re not using the memory function of your brain. It’s a bit like constantly using Maps. You drive to places without ever really knowing where you are.”
Yvonne suggests six simple tips to help improve memory:
1. Write it down, say it aloud
As soon as you’ve jotted something down and the brain has acknowledged that word or phrase, a connection has been made. You increase the likelihood of that happening by 50 per cent if you say it out loud. You could even try singing it (your memory for music is stored in a different part of the brain, so this can boost memory).
2. One thing at a time
Concentrate. Most of us can’t avoid busy lives, but if we’re texting, marshalling the children, and flipping through Facebook at the same time as trying to take in a piece of information, the chances of it staying in the head are not great. And maybe turn the phone off now and then.
3. Use visual prompts
If you’ve got a blackboard in the kitchen on which you’ve written important numbers or lists, or a calendar where you’ve recorded upcoming events, you remember them more easily. This is because you pass them frequently and, every time you do this, you reprogramme your brain – consolidating and embedding the information.
4. Train your brain
Doing crosswords or Sudoku are proven ways of helping the brain remain cognitively and mentally active. But Yvonne sounds a note of caution. “Don’t do these activities on a phone. Writing is always better than tapping.”
5. Stimulate the grey matter
Following and contributing to interesting conversations gives the brain a thorough workout, as does visiting an art gallery or museum (provided it’s of genuine interest – nothing shuts the brain down faster than boredom). And both introduce new ideas, opinions and thoughts.
6. Get some exercise
By boosting cardiovascular fitness and blood circulation – whether it’s walking, running or gardening – you are nourishing the brain with the oxygen and nutrients it requires to perform to the best of its ability.