Enhancing Your Memory

Daniel Leffingwell MS, RN
March 9 2008

Types of Memory:

1. Short Term: our mind stores information for a few seconds or a few minutes: use the example of computer (RAM).

2. Long Term: involves the information you make an effort (conscious or unconscious) to retain, because it’s personally meaningful to you (Hard Drive)

Use the example of the women who was asked to remember 3 objects after 5 minutes. She came back for her appointment three months later and repeated the objects. This was important to her.

Memory Stages

Acquisition: If you pay attention, it will store!

Consolidation: ¨If you’ve concentrated well enough to encode new information in your brain, the hippocampus sends a signal to store the information as long-term memory. ¨ 1

Retrieval: repetition is the key!

Pay attention! Do you remember a personś name after they tell you it?

Compensate for sensory changes:

 Relate information to what you already know. Connect new data to information you already remember, whether it’s new material that builds on previous knowledge, or something as simple as an address of someone who lives on a street where you already know someone.

Organize information. Write things down in address books and datebooks and on calendars; take notes on more complex material and reorganize the notes into categories later. Use both words and pictures in learning information.

Understand and be able to interpret complex material. For more complex material, focus on understanding basic ideas rather than memorizing isolated details. Be able to explain it to someone else in your own words.  

Rehearse information frequently and “over-learn”. Review what you’ve learned the same day you learn it, and at intervals thereafter. What researchers call “spaced rehearsal” is more effective than “cramming.” If you’re able to “over-learn” information so that recalling it becomes second nature, so much the better

Maintain Regular exercise Habits

Managing stress: mild stress vs. complex stress and memory. Stress is a major cause of synapse dysfunction.

¨Research shows that prolonged exposure to stress can interfere with the function of neurotransmitters. Excessive amounts of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate may accumulate in the synapse. In high concentrations, glutamate becomes a toxin that can interfere with learning and cause cell damage in the brain's memory regions. Research presented at the 2006 American Psychological Association convention suggests that repeated stress remodels the brain and causes neurons in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex to shrink. Stress can also lead to depression, which is associated with memory difficulties.¨ 4

Good stress/bad stress...

Good sleep habits

Stop Smoking:

Maintain Good Nutrition Habits:

Take a good all around multivitamin that has memory "enhancing"properties

¨B vitamins, especially B6, B12, and folic acid, protects neurons by breaking down homocysteine, an amino acid that is toxic to nerve cells. They’re also involved in making red blood cells, which carry oxygen. (Best sources: spinach and other dark leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, strawberries, melons, black beans and other legumes, citrus fruits, soybeans.)¨ 1

¨Antioxidants like vitamins C and E, and beta carotene, fight free radicals, which are atoms formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Free radicals are highly reactive and can damage cells, but antioxidants can interact with them safely and neutralize them. Antioxidants also improve the flow of oxygen through the body and brain. (Best sources: blueberries and other berries, sweet potatoes, red tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, green tea, nuts and seeds, citrus fruits, liver.)¨ 1

¨Omega-3 fatty acids are concentrated in the brain and are associated with cognitive function. They count as “healthy” fats, as opposed to saturated fats and trans fats, protecting against inflammation and high cholesterol. (Best sources: cold-water fish such as salmon, herring, tuna, halibut, and mackerel; walnuts and walnut oil; flaxseed and flaxseed oil)¨ 1

¨Because older adults are more prone to B12 and folic acid deficiencies, a supplement may be a good idea for seniors. An omega-3 supplement (at any age) if you don’t like eating fish. But nutrients work best when they’re consumed in foods, so try your best to eat a broad spectrum of colorful plant foods and choose fats that will help clear, not clog, your arteries. Your brain will thank you!¨ 1

Think Positive: self fulfilling prophecy

Use Associations (Mnemonic devices):

TINSTAAFL On old olympus, towering Tops cranial nerves (sentences, rhymes)

Visual cues


Are you a visual or auditory learner?

The Importance of good General Health

B12 and Folic Acid deficiencies


Medications (anticholenergic) that can cause memory dysfunction.

High blood pressure medication; stomach medication resperpine.

Convince yourself that you have a good memory that will improve. Dont' Worry...be happy!

Keep your brain active: mind exercises on the computer, games puzzles activity that stimulates senses. Use the example of sundowning.

Repeat things you need to learn:  Use joke about women with Alzheimers - keeps repeating herself.

Organize your life: establish a daily routine for routine  tasks ie: always take your medications associated with a task, like eating breakfast.

But, also balance this with a variety of activities that interest you!


1. Improving your Memory: Tips and Techniques for Memory Enhancement Helpguide.org

2. How to Improve Your Memory  wikiHow

3. How to Improve Your Memory: Tips for Remembering Information Suite101.com

4. Want To Improve Memory? Strengthen Your Synapses. Here's How  Medical News Today.