Notes from a lecture by Clare Brandys, Ph.D., C.Psych., Psychologist, Clinical Neuropsychology.
This information provides general principles only. For more elaborate and individualized information it is recommended that interested people contact their own health care providers.
Why do people with epilepsy often have memory problems?
How can seizures cause memory problems?
What else can cause memory problems?
Can anti-epileptic medication cause memory problems?
Are all memory problems the same?
What are the processes of memory?
There are many different ways to classify how memory works. Some people rely more on their verbal memory, remembering in terms of words or sounds, whereas others use their visual memory, relying on pictures or spatial relationships. Which process works best for you? There is semantic memory, referring to knowledge-based memory of a particular topic, like the history of World War I, for example. This differs from episodic memory, or memory of a particular event, such as an outing you were on last week. Most of us have heard of short-term (or working) memory vs. long-term memory, which really refers to the memory of things in the recent past.
Getting the information into our memory is called the encoding and then the consolidation process, and the separate process of getting it out again is called retrieval. Some people have a problem getting information into their memory in the first place, whereas others find the retrieval challenging, and may just need a cue or prompt before they are able to retrieve a memory. Start to notice which memory processes are working well for you so you can play to your strengths and minimize your weakness.
Do my emotions play a role in my memory problems?
What are the most common everyday memory problems?
Do memory problems ever improve over time?
Can memory be improved through mental exercises?
What can I do to live better with a memory problem?
What are some good memory habits?
- accept that one cannot cure
- use remaining capacities
- pay more attention
- spend more time
- make associations
- link input and retrieval
What are some formal strategies for helping the memory process itself?
The memory process consists of getting the information in, keeping it in, and then getting it out again. You can actively work on getting the information in-encoding it-by simply paying close attention to the specific things you want or need to remember. Many people have problems remembering the name of someone new because at the time, they aren’t really paying attention to the name itself. Distractions get in the way of really attending to new information, so cut out distractions wherever possible. Repeating or rehearsing the information-saying it more than once– will help encode it. Elaborating on it, exaggerating it, organizing it, or associating it with something else meaningful to you are other ways we increase its impact on our memory processes. For instance, you may take someone’s name and make up a whole outrageous picture or elaborate association with something else it reminds you of. These techniques help our brain to process the information on more than one level and to make more connections. Research shows that the memory trace is stronger if it has more connections in the brain– the information will simply stick better. Chunking or breaking down information – a telephone number, for example – into smaller, easier to remember “chunks” is another strategy for more effectively encoding material.
I recommend the Page-a-Minute Memory Book by Harry Lorayne for lots of simple and practical day-to-day memory strategies.
What are some other formal memory strategies?
Lots of material lends itself to using mental pictures or imagery to help us memorize it, especially if your visual memory is what works best for you.
You can use “pegs” to help you memorize a sequential list. With the peg method, each number has a rhyming visual cue, for example “One, bun, Two, shoe, Three, tree, Four door,” and you visualize the first thing you want to remember on a bun, etc.
The more of your senses or modalities you use, the more likely you are to remember it. For instance, writing out someone’s name will help you remember it, but writing it in sand (touching it) as well as hearing it would “cross code” it and make it more likely to “stick”.
Some people find first letter clues help them memorize lists, like “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” for the musical scale EGBDF. Other people weave information into a “story” that uses elaboration, exaggeration and visualization– cross coding it to help them remember.
What are memory groups?
Will using natural remedies help my memory?
How can I take control of my memory problem?
What other external aids can I use?
How can I enjoy reading books when I forget what I have just read?
This can be a challenge. Try reading out loud to help you pay closer attention to what you are reading. Or use a highlighter to visually exaggerate certain key phrases as you read. Or try taking notes as you go along. Translating what you have just read into your own words can help commit it to memory. Make a special point of including it in a conversation soon after you’ve read it. Exaggerate it to strengthen the memory trace.
What hints can you give someone with memory problems?
Memory coping is about good habits and working around the problem. Try to relax: stress may make your memory worse. Be flexible: different types of information may require different memory methods. Be committed, motivated: paying more attention takes effort. Try again if one method fails: things may not turn out as you planned. Try not to dwell on all the things from the past that you wish you could remember. Pay attention to what is going on now so you can make some new memories. Look ahead, not behind. And… celebrate your memory successes!!