Newswise — It sounds like a Yogi Berra-ism, but it's true: sometimes we forget to remember.
Your memory can be improved, but it needs a daily workout and motivation to do so, says a Texas A&M University researcher who has written a book after studying memory - and lack of it - for almost 40 years.
W.R. (Bill) Klemm, who has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree and a doctorate in neuroscience - two good reasons to believe that he has a pretty good memory himself - says that "after 40 years as a college professor, I've concluded that the single most important thing about success as a student is not a high IQ but how much a student remembers from the instruction." His book, "Thank You Brain, For All You Remember (What You Forgot Was My Fault)," is a how-to tome about not only keeping memory but also improving it.
"Poor students are poor students because they don't know how to memorize efficiently," Klemm says. "Memory is a skill that can be learned, and that's the whole point of the book."
Klemm notes that there are four major obstacles to memory: information overload, multi-tasking, stress and lack of sleep.
"Information overload and multi-tasking make it hard to pay attention and to concentrate," he explains.
"Stress and lack of sleep can prevent us from remembering things we should. One of the most important things memory experts have learned in the last few years is that a healthy lifestyle is critical to good memory skills, and that means eating well and exercising, especially some type of aerobic exercise.
"It's important to believe that you can remember things well," he adds. "This has two effects: it relieves the anxiety and fear of forgetting that can impair memory, and it forces you to do the memory-assisted things that assure that you do remember well. In other words, it makes you live up to your expectations of yourself."
One good tip he recommends to sharpen memory skills: challenge yourself mentally.
That could include doing crossword puzzles, reading, problem solving, playing chess, "anything that challenges and stretches your brain," Klemm says.
"I have never made a formal study of this, but the group of 80- and 90-year-old practicing scientists I know seem to have much better memories than people in the general population of comparable age. Look at all of the older comedians like Bob Hope, Milton Berle and Red Skelton and others who were 85-plus and were still memorizing hundreds if not thousands of jokes every year."
That brings up a subject that memory experts have debated for years: memory and age.
Klemm says that the old saying that life begins at 40 doesn't apply to memory - most people have a steady decline in memory loss beginning at about age 40. It doesn't necessarily mean a total memory loss, but rather a slowing down in general reactions and concentration spans, he says. "The most obvious example is a slowing down in the ability to recall names," Klemm explains.
"Some, if not most, memory deterioration with age is attributed to disease. Diabetes, high blood pressure and alcohol abuse can all be major factors in your ability to remember. When you're older and you can't remember things, people say you're having a 'senior moment.' But it could be that disease is playing more of a role than you think."
Klemm offers helpful tips at the end of each chapter to improve memory, more than 150 tips in all. Some include:
* Take vitamins and exercise daily. * Take aspirin * Music, at least instrumental music, may help improve memory * Have a good mental outlook - your feelings can interfere with memory, and one of the reasons some schools fail is that they have to teach kids who have bad emotions and attitudes * Sadness and depression can impair memory * Make up an acronym for things you want to recall * Get plenty of sleep - even one hour less than you need can significantly impair memory * Eat a "pro-memory" diet, one low in saturated fats and high in fruits and vegetables * Work harder at paying attention because this ability usually declines with age * Memory crutches, such as post-it notes and to-do lists are okay but don't let them be used as a substitute for exercising your memory
Klemm's best advice?
"Stay active, both physically and mentally," he stresses.
"I am now 70. In the last few years, I've averaged about six scholarly papers a year, I'm working on two more books and I'm involved in three federal research grants. I'll be the first to say I don't have the memory I did when I was 20, but my memory is still relatively sharp because I work on it. Everyone should, too."
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Thank You Brain, For All You Remember (What You Forgot Was My Fault)