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Improve Your Memory

Tips to boost your memory and keep it strong for years to come.

WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

Good Housekeeping Magazine Logo Sometimes I think my memory is actually too good. Like when I realize I still know the lyrics to nearly every song released in the '80s. Or that I can recite, verbatim, lines from at least half a dozen episodes of Seinfeld and Sex and the City. But then I'll go to transfer a load of laundry into the dryer and discover that it's already dry; seems I forgot to ever turn on the washer. Or I'll forget my neighbor's name — again. Could it be that sitcom dialogue and song lyrics are taking up so much brain space there's none left for remembering when my next dentist appointment is or whether I've mailed the mortgage payment this month?
There's certainly a lot more information to commit to memory these days. "I used to have one phone number, one bank account, and no passwords," my 73-year-old mother says wistfully. "Now, between work, home, and my cell, I have four phone numbers, plus a bank-account number and PIN, and at least seven passwords, including a code for the copy machine in my office."

She blames 21st-century information overload for her everyday memory lapses — misplacing her glasses or walking into the kitchen only to forget what she needed there. "There's some truth to that," says Gary Small, M.D.,director of the Memory & Aging Research Center at UCLA. "And it's also likely that because there are more memory challenges now, our slips are more noticeable."
But Dr. Small won't let my mom — or me — off that easily. "Our lives may be more frenetic, but we actually have the capacity to remember much more than we do," he says. "We simply need to work on improving our attention."

Fortunately, research is yielding new ways to do that, to sharpen memory now and keep it strong as we get older. Read on for these short- and long-term strategies.

Tricks to Prime Your Memory

You've been chatting with another guest at a party. Afterward, you remember that she's a graphic artist and that her son goes to the middle school near your house, but you have no idea what her name is. How could you forget something so basic when you can recall those other details? In truth, you didn't. With all the facts that came at you in the course of your short conversation, you never really learned her name in the first place. Our ability to commit new information to memory slows down over the years, explains Glenn Smith, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at the Mayo Clinic. In order to help the process along, you need to focus your mind. These tricks will help jog your memory by forcing you to pay attention.

Repeat yourself. Locking the door, taking your vitamins, unplugging the iron — there's a reason they're called mindless tasks. To help get a routine activity lodged in your brain, say it out loud as you do it ("I'm popping my multi"), advises Cynthia Green, Ph.D., president of Memory Arts LLC, a company that provides memory fitness training. The same trick — repeating aloud "I'm getting the scissors" — fends off distraction as you head into the kitchen for them. Memory experts also advise that you repeat a person's name as you're introduced ("Hi, Alice") and again as you finish your conversation ("Nice talking with you, Alice"), but if that feels forced, just repeat the name to yourself as you walk away.

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