Remember This!

Do you have trouble remembering what you had for dinner two days ago? Are you upset when you miss an important birthday or anniversary? Join the club! Even President Clinton can relate, having said on Aug. 17:

"I have been blessed and advantaged in my life with a good memory. I have been shocked, and so have members of my family and friends of mine, at how many things that I have forgotten in the last six years."

Because everyone has trouble remembering from time to time, CBS This Morning has invited memory expert Cynthia Green to be part of this two-part series. She's with the Mount Sinai-NYU Medical Center and Health System, where she teaches a course on memory improvement

While we may think that we understand how our memory works, Dr. Green says, there are also a lot of myths that surround it. Age can be a factor in memory changes. With age, the following may weaken:

  • Attention span.
  • Concentration
  • Ability to learn new information.
All of the above affect memory.

Dr. Green thinks that memory is especially becoming an issue now because there's a growing emphasis for baby boomers on staying young and vital.

Here is a quick test of your memory:

What is written on the front and on the back of a penny? (An object you have seen many times).

Because boomers are the largest segment of our population, it's important to them to preserve their memories. As Dr. Green puts it:

"Culturally, we like to stay young. And even in an aging older population, people like to stay young. Alzheimer's is one of the most frightening diseases of aging. It's frightening because it means the loss of self. Our memory is who we are."

When it comes to memory, here's something you should know: Our brains are actually able to process a great deal of information every minute. Your brain also weeds out information that it deems "trivial" and that's often why you may not be able to remember something that happened this morning or even last night.

Try to remember, for example, how may light switches or electrical outlets are in your apartment or house. Don't have a clue? That's because your brain considers that information "trivial." You don't really need to know how many light switches you have to live successfully in your home.

keypadHere's another one: What letters are missing from the phone keypad? You probably don't know the answers off the top of your head, and that's because these are very trivial bits of information. Although you use the telephone daily, you don't need to know what letters are on it, just as you don't need to know what's written on a penny to spend it.

Now here's another piece of the puzzle that's a little scary: Dr. Green says that "if you're a healthy adult and you have difficulty remembering something, it's most likely because you're not really getting it."

That could mean that your brain finds what you're trying to remember so trivial that it keeps flushing out the information. It could also mean that other factors are interfering with your memory. These may include:

  • Being under stress
  • Being tired.
If you find yourself in such a situation, Dr. Green says, you need to work on building your attention and concentration:

"As a mother of young children, I can't always get the rest I need to remember things easily. But I can't tell my four-year-old, when she wakes me up in the middle of the night, to go back to bed so that my memory's in good shape in the morning. I have to just cope with itÂ…"
Dr. Green adds, "When I find myself in these situations, I know that I have to practice very good memory habits so that I do remember what I need to remember. And that means, for me, writing things down."

Stress management training is also part of this equation. When you're under stress, you need to cope with it effectively. Stress makes you more distractable, so it's harder to remember things.

There is a misconception, she says, that modern times make it more difficult to remember things:

"It's funny. People often tell me, 'My parent had it so much easier - they didn't have to remember nearly as many things.' That's actually not true. I was reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's book, Little House in the Big Woods, recently with my children, and I marveled at all the things that Pa had to remember when he killed a deer. He had to remember how to skin the deer, prepare the meat, store the meat, etc. He had to remember all of it. He had a lot to remember. Today, if we want venison, we just go to Dean & Deluca and pick it up."

The one thing that has changed is the speed at which we get information. It is greater. The pace of that deer killing and preparing process, for those in that time period, really was at their own pace or a pace that was much more manageable. Our capacity for processing information is much faster. We're all getting information so fast that it's hard to focus.

People will remember better if they simply focus on focusing Be mindful of what you want to remember.

Part Two of this report will include more advice on how to get your memory to snap back and stay on track.
©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed