Memory, an intricate and complex function of the brain, requires millions of neurons to operate in perfect harmony. As we age, we experience memory glitches in which spontaneous memory loss occurs, such as when you can’t recall something that is at the tip of your tongue. Aging causes neuron loss, which can impact your memory of recent events. You might forget where you left your keys or the name of a person you just met. While this is a normal slip due to aging – or even due to an overtaxed mind, there are more serious non-age related types of memory loss. One is when you forget how to do things that you’ve done many times before, or are unable to learn new things. Memory loss that gets progressively worse is also serious. Possible causes of memory loss include depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other neurodegenerative brain disorders, side effects from certain drugs, stroke, trauma, and alcoholism. If you’re experiencing less serious memory loss, like having a few more senior moments lately or you are more forgetful than usual, try these memory-improving tips and tricks. (These tips and tricks for less serious memory loss. If you think you might be experiencing a more serious kind, see your physician.)
1. Don’t forget to be aware
We do so many things automatically: We come home, we throw the keys down, we sit down on the couch, we flip on the television — and many of these actions are done without thinking. Then, the next morning, halfway out the front door, we may suddenly realize we have no idea where the keys are. This exercise is a helpful memory device: Become aware and be observant of everything. Wherever you put your keys, be aware of it. Be conscious of every little action that you do. And as you’re doing each thing, you can reinforce it by making a mental note to yourself: “I just put my keys on the kitchen table.” When you do this on a daily basis, this will increase your ability to remember things. Sometimes it is not so much that you’re aging, it’s just that you’re too busy to pay attention.
2. Organized in life, organized in mind
When you are organized in your house, you are organized in your mind. Designate a special area for all items. If you take the tool out of the toolbox, always put the tool back in the toolbox where it belongs. Choose a space where you will collect bills or checks — and put them in the same place every time. Having this organization will not only help you remember, it will save precious memory space for you to fill with more important things. And if you want to not forget to do certain things, make sure you write it down — list-making is another organizational device that helps your memory. Better still, do what you need to do now and don’t procrastinate, because memory is fleeting even to the most brilliant, vital person.
3. Seeing is remembering
Another trick to help you to remember things is to see them. Many people are visual and remember better with a visual reminder. If there are certain things that you need to work on, put the document out where you’re going to see it and remember to work on it. Or leave yourself a note on the breakfast table where you will be sure to see it. Keep what you need within your visual field and you won’t forget!
4. Herbal teas to remember
Many herbs and supplements have been researched and found to help improve your cognitive capabilities. Sit back and let these herbs keep your brain young and your memory sharp:
Green tea prevents an enzyme found in Alzheimer’s disease and is also rich in polyphenols, antioxidants that help prevent premature brain aging. Drink two cups a day to get the brain benefits.
The leaf of the ginkgo tree is shaped like a human brain, and some believe this is why, in Asia, it has always had a reputation of benefiting the mental processes. A dwindling memory and decreased concentration is largely caused by decreased blood flow to the brain and loss of brain cells; ginkgo has been confirmed to boost circulation to the brain and other organs, improving memory and cognitive functions. If you are taking medications, consult your doctor before taking ginkgo.
Western medicine has recently become aware of a nutrient extracted from Chinese club moss that helps to improve learning, memory retrieval, and memory retention. The moss, Huperzia serrata, yields a substance called Huperzine A that is similar to drugs used to control Alzheimer’s disease. The Chinese have used it to boost memory, and it is usually brewed as tea and given at a dose of one or two cups per day. Look for it in a health food store or Asian grocery. You can steep the moss itself in hot water, one teaspoon per cup, and drink as a tea, or you can take 50 mcg twice a day in capsule form. Because of its potent actions, you should only take Huperzine A under the supervision of your doctor.
A customized blend of Chinese herbs, featuring some of the herbs listed above, that promotes a clear and focused mind and a sharp memory is Super Clarity.
You can find more information about improving memory — and many other tips for living healthy and happy — in my new book Second Spring, Hundreds of Natural Secrets to Revitalize and Rejuvenate at Any Age.
May you live long, live strong, and live happy!
Dr. Maoshing Ni is a bestselling author and practices acupuncture, nutrition and Chinese medicine at the Tao of Wellness in Santa Monica, a seven-doctor group that he co-founded 25 years ago. He is also the co-founder and Chancellor of Yo San University in Venice/Marina del Rey. You can visit him at www.taoofwellness.com or call 310.917.2200.