Keeping Memory Sharp
It’s something that, as we approach a certain age, we all worry about – where did I park? Where are my keys? What was I to get at the grocery? Are these forgetful times reasons of concern, or just the mistakes of an overwhelmed mind? The Fort Myers Beach Public Library offers two monthly programs to help you answer these questions.
Approximately 40 people attended “Memory Improvement” with Cletus Poser, who is on staff as a reference librarian. A few in the group apologized to him up-front, because they forgot to register, meaning they were in absolutely the right program! Memory even affected Cletus, who meant to run copies of an article for the class, “but I forgot!” At the beginning, an audience member asked him to speak up, with Cletus saying, “That is something I am unaccustomed to – I am a librarian!”
Write It Down
He stressed the simplest, easiest, most stress-free way to remember things – “write them down! Record it if you want to keep it as a long-term memory. If I tell you a telephone number and you do not write it down, you will forget because that is the nature of the brain. Tomorrow morning is a long time away and you will hear a lot more details between now and then, so write down what you want to remember, make it easy on yourself, and save the heartache and stress. Calendars – use them! Journals – use them! Diaries – use them!”
A good technique is to “get a visual of the memory, because once you create that, you create the association; without the association, your brain will fog up and quit. Anything emotional is good to get and keep the juices flowing. Also, get into a routine so you don’t have to worry about forgetting – park in the same spot, put your keys in the same place every time.”
Keep the brain active, Cletus relates. “People with college degrees suffer less from dementia, not just because of their education, but they tend to have occupations that require things like computers rather than working on an assembly line where you do the same thing day-after-day that does not stimulate the brain. Challenge yourself and don’t worry about embarrassment or failure – try it! Learn a foreign language or a new musical instrument. If you don’t want to become brain dead, don’t get bored, and go for speed, as that is what gets the brain going, more so than accuracy.”
Eat a healthy diet – “eat for the brain, not for the stomach,” Cletus reminds. “And quiet the mind to let the idea marinate – shut that thing off and be peaceful and free – nothing bothers Buddha! When people speak to you, listen and pay attention. Dial everything else out and focus – this is important, or you will not make the connection; that is how the brain works. Also, forget about brain games and get yourself a deck of cards; they are free and no one will try to sell you anything or hack into your account!”
Finally, “the only way you really remember something important is to practice, practice, and then practice reviewing it some more, because it only gets in your memory as long as you review it, and the more likely you are to use it, the more likely you are to remember it..”
Establish a Baseline
Angel Duncan, a mental health therapist from the Neuropsychiatric Research Center of Southwest Florida, conducts 30-minute individual screenings at the library and provides you with her written follow-up report based on her expertise and impressions of your session. She took me through mine in mid-February in the library’s second floor Quiet Room.
She begins by getting background information on you and your health, then takes you through a series of simple tests that track your memory skills. You repeat sentences, memorize a grouping of words, link together numbers with corresponding letters, draw characters, identify animals, and name as many words as you can that begin with the same letter, excluding proper and city names, among various activities.
When the tests are complete, Angel provides you with your cognitive score and offers suggestions on how you can keep your memory sharp: She graded me at 25 out of 30, and that places me squarely in the middle of my memory range, with no concerns to date. What doomed me to mediocrity was she provided me a list of five words to remember near the beginning of the session, and even with some helpful hints to prompt me, I could recall none near the end!
Now that I have a base number, Angel recommends I take a memory screen annually to see how I continue to fare. She encouraged me to keep up with my exercise, calling brisk walking a great elixir; to enjoy an active social life, limit my sugar intake, and to listen to music wearing headphones for roughly one hour-a-day, as music this intimate “really keeps the brain alive on the inside! It does not matter what you listen to, as long as you enjoy it.”
Angel emphasizes the results of her screening does not constitute a diagnosis, or replace a full medical workup for cognitive or memory concerns, but she provides you with a baseline. If she encounters what she deems a significant problem, she will provide you with a suggested list of alternatives to find further help and answers.
“Memory Improvement” with Cletus is the last Monday of each month, with the next session on March 20, in the 3rd floor community room at 1:30 p.m. “Memory Screenings” with Angel are monthly through April, with reservations for the 30-minute session along with the $3 fee paid in advance; her next day is Tuesday, March 28, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To register, go to the 2nd floor reference desk or call 239-765-8162; to view the Fort Myers Beach Public Library’s roughly 50 monthly programs see www.fmb.lib.fl.us. The library is at 2755 Estero Boulevard.