Stop losing the keys: How to boost your short-term memory
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Can't remember what you were just about to say?
Japanese researchers at the University of Kyoto pitted young chimps against human adults in tests of short-term memory-and overall, the chimps won. Tetsuro Matsuzawa, a researcher in the study and a pioneer in studying the mental abilities of chimps, was shocked and thinks one factor plays a major role: age.
Memory for images dissipates with age, leaving you having trouble "placing the face" or remembering names of people you have repeatedly met.
To see how your short-term memory stacks up, here's a quick test from Dr. Jay Gottfried, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology and psychology at Northwestern University in Chicago and a neurologist at Northwestern Memorial Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago.
- Remember the characters' names in the last book you read or movie you saw?
- Forget to pick up all the things you want at the grocery store?
- Space out phone numbers, birthdays and appointments once or twice a day?
- Lose your car in the parking lot?
- Have trouble placing faces with names? Or call people by the wrong name?
If you answered 'yes' to three or more of these questions, it's time to give your short-term memory a boost.
A study from the University of Wales Swansea Department of Psychology found missing breakfast can lead to a sluggish mid-to-late-morning memory. But, a breakfast of foods with the flavanol quercetin protects your memory from age-related wear and tear, say researchers from the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. Aim for eating one cup of foods with quercetin a day. Onions and apples have the highest amounts, but you'll also find it in blueberries, broccoli and kale.
Play the number game
Pick a phone number you just can't seem to remember and repeat it to yourself at least 10 times in a row. Gottfried says doing this a few times a day reinforces the number and exercises your short-term memory.
Scrabble, chess and even brain teasers all give your short-term memory a good workout, Gottfried says.
Mix it up
Breaking out of your daily routine exercises your brain and memory. Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand, reverse the order you do things in the shower or take a different route to work. "These require you to stay alert and challenge your memory to store new ways to accomplish tasks," Gottfried says.
And don't panic if your short-term memory seems to fail you. You're not going crazy. "It just means your memory needs a tune-up," Gottfried says.