Thirty years ago, baby boomers launched the physical fitness craze, and now many of them are participating in the mental fitness craze. The bad news is that the average person's memory starts going downhill at around age 35.
The good news is that experts believe there are things that all of us can do to improve our memory. So, many people today are eating healthy "memory foods," and taking vitamins and supplements. They're also buying books, software, and videos as well as enrolling in memory classes. I just hope they remember where the classes are held.
The key to keeping mentally fit is the same as keeping physically fit -- use it or lose it. Experts have shown that mental exercise like doing crossword puzzles is helpful in improving memory. Even just reading will stimulate your brain -- so reading my column is making you more mentally fit right now. (Imagine what great shape you'll be in if you just remember to read it every week).
In addition to using your brain as much as possible, there are some tricks that memory mavens recommend. When you put your glasses on the hall table, they suggest you say out loud, "I'm putting my glasses on the hall table." Supposedly, you'll remember hearing your voice later on. Unfortunately, anyone who witnesses you talking to yourself like this will think you're in a lot worse shape than someone who just can't find his glasses.
Another suggestion is that when you meet someone, imagine that person's name written on his or her forehead. I don't think this would work for me -- my handwriting is so bad, I wouldn't be able to read it later on in my imagination.
The big memory trick is to come up with outlandish associations. For example, if you meet somebody whose name is Barry Fish, you might picture a person who is about to bury a fish in the sand. I'm not so sure about this. If I managed to remember that image, I'm just as likely to think the person's name is Sandy Carp.
So, I'm excited about this new research, but since these techniques aren't perfect, I have a feeling that many people are still going to hold onto their old methods of dealing with forgetfulness. You're still going to make lists, lots of lists. And you're going to try really hard to remember where you put those lists. If you run into someone whose name you should know, after panicking, you'll smile at them and then call out to whomever you're with, "Hey, look who's here!" If you're alone, you might resort to, "Wow, you have really lost weight!" hoping that they'll be so thrilled by the compliment that they might not notice that you have no idea who they are.
But let me suggest an even bolder approach -- maybe we should just tell the truth. What's so bad about saying, "I'm sorry, but I can't remember your name?" Giving ourselves permission to say that can be quite liberating. We don't have to be embarrassed just because we don't remember as well as we did when we were kids. We're wiser now, and there are lots of other things we do better today than we did then. I just can't remember what they are.
By Lloyd Garver