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Don't forget to sharpen brain skills
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Forsyth County News

Are you forgetful? Do you find yourself relying more and more on reminders from others or written reminders?

If so, and I put myself in this group, here’s some interesting information and suggestions for improving memory skills.

Did you know that you can only hold seven items in short-term memory at once without losing some of the information?

I’m not sure I believe that about women. It seems to me women keep track of way more items than that at any given moment.

Men? Not so much.

If my husband is going to the grocery store for a few things, he has to have a list. Unless it is for just one thing, and who goes to the store for just one item?

Did you know that the brain’s cerebral cortex registers nerve messages from our eyes, ears and our “touch” sensors.

Apparently, this stimulus is held for a split second in the “sensory memory.”

If you want to store that in short-term memory, you have to pay attention to the image for eight seconds.

Just what is short-term memory? That’s the brain’s system for remembering information that is currently “in use.”

When items have been “registered” for a while in short-term memory, they can then be moved to long-term memory.

I think most women have excellent long-term memories. If you don’t know, just ask your husband.

I still remember when I was expecting our first child and called Paul to come to dinner.

I was in that ravenous stage of pregnancy, when everything looks and tastes delicious, and you give yourself permission to eat it all.

I had prepared both of our plates of food and he innocently asked me which one was his. I say innocently because he really was, but when speaking to a pregnant woman, you really have to be careful with every word that comes out.

I interpreted his comment as him saying, “Wow! Which dinner plate is mine because these both look like they are going to be eaten by someone who weighs 200 pounds.”

I burst into tears and ran into our bedroom crying. See? My long-term memory works great, but I digress.

Do you ever feel like something is on the tip of your tongue, but you just can’t remember it? That feeling drives me crazy.

Paul always asks me who acted in a certain movie, or what the name of the movie was, and I can’t sleep until I have remembered the name.

That is a retrieval problem. It means you paid attention, you registered it, retained it, did something with it, but can’t retrieve it at that critical moment.

It’s fascinating to note that your brain is full of information. It searches all of that information in storage to find what it’s looking for.

Experts agree we should strive to keep our brain active. The brain is not a muscle, but regularly “exercising” the brain actually does keep it growing and spurs the development of new nerve connections that can help improve memory.

By developing new mental skills — especially complex ones such as learning a new language or learning to play a new musical instrument — and challenging your brain with puzzles and games can keep it active and improve its physiological functioning.

I’m not good with brain teasers, but do love word games. I used to love Trivial Pursuit and remember playing that in the car on long road trips. My dad was always so good at it I remember wondering if I would ever be that smart.

Brain experts also say (like all other experts) that we should exercise daily.

Regular aerobic exercise improves circulation and efficiency throughout the body, including the brain, and can help ward off the memory loss that comes with aging.

Exercise also makes you more alert and relaxed, and can thereby improve memory uptake, allowing for better mental “pictures.”

Pretty much all experts say we should try to reduce stress. Chronic stress, although it does not physically damage the brain, can make remembering much more difficult.

Even temporary stresses can make it more difficult to effectively focus on concepts and observe things.

We should also eat healthy and consider supplements. There are a lot of herbal supplements on the market that claim to improve memory, and I’ll admit to taking several of these.

But if you ask a doctor, which of course you should, they likely will say no herb has been proven to help improve memory.

As with everything, do your homework and make up your own mind.

Most but not all medical doctors are negative when it comes to herbal supplements, but to me it is like buying insurance. You don’t think you need it, but you buy it just in case.

In any event, a healthy diet contributes to a healthy brain, and foods containing antioxidants — broccoli, spinach, and berries, for example — and Omega-3 fatty acids appear to promote healthy brain functioning.

Do you have games to play to keep your brain sharp? Please let me know so I can help spread some tips.


Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at