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Memory Expert's Tips to Avoid Forgetfulness

With age comes some degree of memory loss. But there are techniques to make remembering things, like where you left your car keys, a whole lot easier.

According to the Mayo Clinic, some degree of memory loss, as well as a modest decline in thinking skills, is fairly common as we age.

However, as noted at a memory loss prevention workshop recently given by Memory Specialist Peg Stella at the Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center, there are techniques to enhance your memory and cut down on forgetfulness.

Entitled, “Where Did I Leave My Car Keys?” Stella’s hour-long workshop was attended by a group of local seniors, most in their 70s and 80s. She began her presentation by having participants think back to the first house they remember residing in as a child. 

In doing so, she requested her audience to draw a picture laying out the rooms in their house and then placing specific items of furniture where they were located in the home. Then to remember these pieces of furniture (including such items as appliances or a radio), she told participants to use all of their senses.

The goal: to come up with a particular sense that would help them remember specific items. For instance, to remember a stove and its location someone might recall a common pleasant smell in the kitchen, when a particular type of food was often being cooked. 

This exercise is just one of many memory techniques Stella teaches seniors, to help stimulate their memories. It’s all part of her mission in her retirement to help older people with memory issues. (She also has another specialty -- problem solving for mature adults.)

Stella’s current efforts are an extension of her past professional life.  For years she worked at Southwest State University in Marshall, MN, as a language arts learning assistant. In this position, her work included teaching students various memory techniques to enhance reading and study skills, as well as using similar techniques to help young people with disabilities.

In terms of the opening exercise to get people to remember their first home -- after in most cases more than half a century later -- Stella stated, “It may be a bit difficult in the beginning, but the more time you spend visualizing that first home and drawing it on paper, it will come back to you.”

This positive summation was something the audience definitely wanted to hear, since many attending were quick to share their current memory challenges.  For example, Bruce Cardall, 82, said he has difficulty remembering people’s names.  Shirley Decker, 85, said she had same concern, further adding, “I am here to hopefully learn some memory tools.  I know I am not as sharp as I was when I was 45.” 

So how can we all do a better job of remembering people’s names? Stella encourages people to utilize an “Image-Name Technique,” whereby you invent a relationship between the name of the person you are trying to remember and a special physical characteristic that stands out about the person. 

As an example, she referred to a handout, in which it suggests you might remember someone named “Shirley” by relating the woman’s curly hair to Shirley Temple. To take it one step further, to additionally stimulate your memory you might want to use a rhyme associating the lady’s “hair with being curly since it rhymes with Shirley.”

Other memory techniques Stella shared with her audience included:

• To remember a list of things, organized them in a “meaningful way,” listing them alphabetically or in chronological order.

• Learn to recite and repeat.  When you repeat something out loud, you anchor the concept better.  Therefore, if you recite out loud in your own words, your memory of that particular thing is enhanced.

• Write it down. Stella says writing notes to ourselves help us to remember.  If we write down an idea or a passage several times, we stand a much better chance of remembering it.  This “write it down” concept she further noted can be used when it comes to reading. For instance, after reading a book, take the time to write a summary of the plot or main points of the book plus what you learned.

She also encourages seniors to avoid multi-tasking. She says as we get older it becomes even more difficult to multi-task. If you are busy doing something, (such as drawing water for a bath) and someone wants you to do something else, simply state, “I’m sorry I cannot do it right now.”

And, she adds seniors need to think seriously when it comes to consuming alcohol or smoking. Scientific evidence shows either can be a reason for memory loss.

Stella says there are numerous resources available to help people boost their memory.  Her suggestions include the book, “Reader’s Digest’s ‘101 Ways To Improve Your Memory,” and “going online and searching under ‘memory techniques.’”

She further recommends visiting used bookstores, since this is where she has personally found many good books on memory enhancement.

Peg Stella can be reached via e-mail at: pstella507@yahoo.com.

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