This is the second part of a two-part article on memory by Dr. Jane Martin (, an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in NYC. Dr. Jane answers BA50’s questions about what we CAN DO to sharpen up our memory. Ideas follow but for more information, go to our Forums to continue the conversation. After all, you’re not the only one losing your keys, blanking on your neighbor’s name and forgetting if you already took your morning vitamin. Perhaps you have some advice for other BA50’s out there who are back at the supermarket because they don’t know where they left their shopping list.


Is it true?  Use-it-or-lose-it (mental activity) and physical activity:

Studies suggest that physical and cognitive activity may protect against memory decline and dementia.


How does exercise help memory?

The brain normally shrinks with aging, but physical activity (exercise) is associated with less brain shrinkage, increased cerebral blood flow and brain metabolism, which increases new synaptic connections in the brain.  The brain is not “hard wired;” it’s a dynamic organ (“plasticity”) and while it may take longer to form new neural connections as we get older, they are still able to be formed.  Studies show that increased activities reduce our risk of dementia.


Can treating depression help memory?

Aside from diet, substance abuse, fatigue, poor hearing/vision, and poor sleep, mood/emotional factors, such as stress, anxiety, depression, and information overload also affect our memory functioning. Depression affects cognitive functioning more than many of us realize. Depression slows us down… Apathy and a lack of interest in our usual activities are common symptoms of depression, but psycho-motor slowing is also present. Psycho-motor slowing means that you physically move and do things slower as well as, mentally process information slower, often resulting in a “pseudo-dementia.”  So, it’s important to treat mood symptoms as they, too, can affect our thinking skills.



So what are some helpful, everyday tools?

How to remember names and people you meet: Hear it (pay attention); use it (say the name first, last… “Nice to meet you Susan”), see/spell it (visually in your mind), make an association (“Bob’s head is bald; Robert is wearing a red tie; Mr. Green looks sick”)


How to remember what we read: Lack of rehearsal makes us forget things. Unlike students who re-read their notes and materials for an exam, we typically see a movie, read a book or newspaper article once.  Book groups help us “rehearse” the material when we review, discuss, and thus, encode.  Try reading movie reviews AFTER you’ve seen the movie, discussing the movie or book with a friend, or underlining reading material.


Improve attention, eliminate distractions and help your memory: First, PAY ATTENTION and second, give some MEANING or ASSOCIATION to the information you want to remember.


Simple tasks:

1. Stop and pay attention (“I’m on the third floor of the parking garage” and make some association, give meaning to the information (“I have three children”).

2. Make the effort to remember.  Sharpening your attention and giving information some meaning will help you encode the new information for later recall.  How much effort is made storing the information will affect how well you remember.


Hopefully, this helps – or at least gets you thinking more about exercising your memory. Again, let’s talk about this in our Forums (under Brain Function). This is a hot topic among us BA50’s.



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