Here's a real conversation I had with my editor: Me: I think I should do a column on memory but I can't remember if I've already done one. Editor: (Laughs.) Me: What?
I could use some help. For some of you going back to school this week, memory is gonna be practically the only thing that matters when exam time rolls around. I'm a history major, so I know.
It's all about dates and where what was in the textbook. Sometimes I'm so busy trying to remember stuff - stuff I know I'll just have to forget later to make room for more stuff - that I don't think I'm actually learning jack shit.
What the experts say
"Things are much easier to remember the more you attach them to other things . Psychologists present a list of words and say, 'As each word comes up, tell me whether it's on the good or bad side of things.' [Joordens gives me 'rust' and I say it's bad. He associates it with Neil Young's live Rust album, so for him it's good]. If you test people after that, they tend to do really well with recall. Or if you give me 12 words, I could give them back to you just by associating them with landmarks on my way to work. If you have a strong cue, it can be easy to retrieve a memory. When studying, if you work with the information, think about it deeply and make notes , you're more likely to remember it. Memory is not a videotape. It's a reconstructive process."
STEVE JOORDENS , associate professor of psychology, University of Toronto Scarborough
"If some days you have no problem with memory and other days you have a problem, check your diet. A number of vitamins and minerals are involved in making acetylcholine, the memory chemical in the brain, but you can't make it at all without choline , a fatty B vitamin. We really only have a few rich sources of choline - egg yolks and liver - foods that we have demonized. If you like liver, it's best to buy organic or naturally raised. Also, full-fat tofu . We've all got so paranoid about fat, but the brain is virtually entirely fat, so a low-fat diet is a recipe for disaster. If you don't eat any of these, you need to take a daily choline supplement. If a mother is low on choline during pregnancy, her offspring will have lifelong memory problems, so the amount you need depends on how well fed you were in utero. The supplement to take is phosphatidylcholine, or lecithin . Other B vitamins like B-12 are involved in memory. It's best to take any supplement with a good-quality multivitamin ."
AILEEN BURFORD-MASON , immunologist, nutritionist, Toronto
"Three major herbs have been proven to increase cognitive function: gotu kola , rosemary and ginkgo biloba . Research has led to ginkgo being recommended for early symptoms of Alzheimer's. These three can be combined in equal parts in a tea, drunk two or three times a day. You can also use basil essential oil as aromatherapy. Combine it with rosemary and peppermint essential oils and put into an aromatherapy burner or spritz into the air. Use your spritzer and sip your tea while studying for an exam."
CELINA AINSWORTH , herbalist, the Herbal Clinic and Dispensary, Toronto
"There isn't a real quick way to learn things other than by continuing to reinforce them by accessing them over and over again through repeated memory exercises. Sometimes we get into a state of mind that prohibits us from remembering things, so it's not an issue of remembering. Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) helps organize people's nervous system to be in the optimal state in order to access the information they need at any given time. One exercise would be anchoring, where you create a stimulus response: let's say there's a specific table you like to study at, so that table becomes anchored to the information. You can also create word pictures, illustrations that will represent a host of memories. Because the process is fluid, it can be difficult to articulate the single piece or technique that will release a memory. People can rehearse by just going through their day and practising the state of remembering."
CHRIS KEELER, NLP Canada, Toronto