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The Memory Bible

August 9, 2013

The Memory Bible by Dr. Gary Small

The book has some great tips on how to improve and maintain cognitive and memory function over a lifetime. The book is organized in 9 chapters with a 10th as a recap. About half the book is dedicated to environment related issues that can affect memory, and the other half is about assessing your current memory and techniques on how to improve it.

What affects memory

Many things can affect memory: genetic predisposition, lifestyle choices (alcohol, drugs, dangerous sports, etc.), daily mental challenges, diet, medicinal interactions, and stress to name a few. Unhealthy diets obviously affect the body as can be seen in any mirror, but they also affect the brain without an obvious indication. Along with diet, any schoolchild can tell you that alcohol, smoking, and drugs are bad for you and your brain. Stress causes various hormones and chemical responses in the body that prevent the brain from operating nominally, and chronic stress magnifies this effect. Western medicine depends on pharmacological solutions to treat symptoms of illness, however these treatments can have subtle and complicated interactions and side effects on the brain.

How to improve memory

The first step in improving your memory is assessing your current capabilities. Mental assessments come in 2 forms: subjective and objective. Subjective memory tests are you rating your own feelings on different mental abilities like remembering dates, names, faces, etc. Objective memory tests are the tests with questions and correct answers. A good example of an objective memory test is to try to memorize 10 words in 1 minute, then after 20 minutes of doing something that distracts you from those words trying to recall them all.

The primary technique described is LOOK, SNAP, and CONNECT. LOOK is to actively and attentively observe what you’re trying to learn/memorize. SNAP is to create a mental snapshot by focusing on details to help with recall later. Finally, CONNECT mean to associate those concepts/ideas with images in your mind’s eye. Rather than rote memorization which is strictly a single brain hemisphere activity, you should try to visualize the items to be remembered into a story-like collections of images and ideas. This addition of creativity utilizes both hemispheres, and the additional effort of creativity will help greatly with retention and recall.

Your brain needs exercise too

Mental stimulation and training is key to a healthy brain. While a mentally challenging profession that requires frequent problem solving is a good start, it’s not all that is needed for a healthy brain. The key to mental stimulation is to expose yourself to different types of unexpected challenges. Some simple examples are new types of puzzles, word games, learning a new musical instrument, learning a foreign language, etc. Even simple motor skills can be used to force the mind to adapt like: writing with the non-dominant hand, writing with both hands, doing everyday grooming with the opposite hand, etc. Just like physical exercise, the mind & body adapt to the same stimulation and eventually stop responding to it, so they must be challenged in novel ways.

The connection between mind and body goes both ways. In physical exercise, mental focus is key to producing strength gains and muscular results in the body. The converse is also true. The body’s health and physical exercise is key to the brain’s health and memory results.

Specific memory techniques

There is no substitute for organization. Organization, structure, and routines of the mundane frees the mind to focus on new and challenging tasks. The Peg Method is a technique to remember numerical sequences. The Roman Room Method (or Method of Loci) is a very old technique used to remember ideas in long speeches in Roman times.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia – Risk Factors

Since a medical doctor wrote this book, it’s filled with some very technical information about different parts of the brain: reticular formation, posterior cingulate, temporal lobe, and parietal lobe and how they affect memory and also how they’re affected by genetics (33%) and environmental factors (67%). The doctor also mentions the genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s caused by APOE-4.

Conclusion

Maintaining brain health is a lifelong pursuit. It’s never to early or late to start.

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