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7 useful tips from a neurologist for a strong memory

As we age, our memory weakens. It's destined for many of us, but according to Dr. Richard Restak, a neurologist and clinical professor at George Washington University Hospital, it's not inevitable.

The author of more than 20 books on the mind, Dr. Restak has decades of experience with patients with memory problems. The Complete Guide to Memory: The Science of Powering Your Mind is Dr. Restak's latest book, which includes tools such as mental exercise, sleep habits, and diet that can help improve memory.

Here are some of his tips for developing and maintaining a healthy memory:

#1 Pay more attention

Some memory lapses are actually attention problems rather than memory problems. For example, if you forgot the name of someone you met at the store or coffee shop, it could be because you were talking to several people at the time and didn't pay attention when you heard it. Inattention is the biggest cause of memory problems. This means that you have not coded the memory correctly. One way to pay attention when learning new information, such as a name, is to visualize - having a picture/picture associated with the word can improve recall. You can remember the person by the clothing or accessories that distinguished them at the given time.

#2 Challenge your memory daily

There are many memory exercises you can incorporate into your daily routine. For example, you might make a grocery list and memorize it. When you get to the store, don't automatically pull out your list—instead, get everything by heart. Try to visualize the list in your mind and refer to it as a last resort. If you don't go to the store, try to remember a recipe for a favorite dish. Cooking often is actually a great way to improve working memory.

#3 Play games

Games like bridge and chess are great for memory, but simpler games are fine too. For example, alphabetical listing of fruits and vegetables, city names or famous people. You can use anything you like - names of football players and teams, types of plants, flowers or favorite book authors. Arrange them in alphabetical order. The point is to engage your working memory, finding information and organizing it in your mind.

#4 Read more novels

One early indicator of memory problems is a rejection of fiction. When people start having memory problems, they tend to turn to reading non-fiction. Fiction requires an active engagement with the text, starting from the beginning and reaching the end. You have to remember what the character did on page 3 until you get to page 11 and so on until the end of the book.

#5 Be careful with your use of technology

There is a so-called "technological distortion". Storing everything in the phone means you "don't know it", which can undermine our own mental abilities. Why bother focusing, concentrating and exerting effort to visualize something when your mobile phone camera can do all the work for you?

The second way our relationship with technology is detrimental to memory is that it often distracts us from the task at hand. The biggest obstacle to memory these days is distraction. Because many of these tools are designed to addict the person using them, and as a result we often get distracted by them. People today can check their email while watching videos, talking to a friend, or walking down the street. All of this hinders our ability to focus on the present moment, which is critical for encoding memories.

#6 Work with a mental health professional if needed.

Your mood plays a big role in what you do or don't remember. Depression, for example, can significantly reduce memory. Among people who are referred to neurologists for memory problems, one of the biggest reasons is depression. Your emotional state affects the type of memories you retain. The hippocampus (or memory input center) and the amygdala (the part of the brain that controls emotions and emotional behavior) are connected—so when you're in a bad mood or depressed, you tend to remember sad things. Treating depression - with medication or psychotherapy - also often restores memory.

#7 Determine if there is cause for concern

Throughout his career, Dr. Restak has been asked by dozens of patients how they can improve their memory. But not all memory lapses are problematic. For example, not remembering where you parked your car in a crowded place is quite normal. However, forgetting how you got to the parking lot in the first place indicates potential memory problems.

Also, it's normal to forget your hotel room number, but not your apartment address. If you are worried, it is best to consult a specialist.

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