Reducing Minor Memory Lapses

Although memory impairment is common as we age and usually is not a sign of a serious neurological disorder, it can be frustrating and socially embarrassing. The minor memory lapses that occur with age-associated memory impairment can't be eliminated completely; however, a number of strategies can improve overall memory at any age.

Place commonly lost items in a designated spot

If you're prone to losing certain items, such as keys or eyeglasses, pick a spot and always put the items there when you are not using them.

Write things down

If you have trouble remembering phone numbers or appointments, write them down and place the list in a conspicuous spot. Making a daily "to do" list will remind you of important tasks and obligations. The simple acts of writing notes and making lists reinforce memory.

Say words out loud

Saying, "I've turned off the stove," after doing so will give you an extra verbal reminder when you later try to recall whether the stove is still on. Incorporating people's names into the conversation immediately after you have met them serves the same purpose. For example, saying, "Very nice to meet you, Jennifer," will help consolidate your memory of the name.

Use memory aids

Use a pocket notepad, cell phone, wristwatch alarm, voice recorder, or other aids to help remember what you need to do or to keep track of information.

Use visual images

When learning new information, such as a person's name, create a visual image in your mind to make the information more vivid and, therefore, more memorable. For example, if you've just been introduced to a Mr. Hackman, visualize him hacking his way through a dense jungle with a machete.

Group items using mnemonics

A mnemonic is any technique used to help you remember. For example, when memorizing lists, names, addresses, and so on, try alphabetizing them or grouping them as an acronym—a word made from the first letters of a series of words (for example, NATO stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization).

Another mnemonic technique is an acrostic. Acrostics use the first letter of each item to create new words that form a sentence or phrase (for example, "Every good boy does fine," helps you remember the order of the treble-clef line notes on sheet music: E, G, B, D, F). Using rhymes ("The car is not a plane; it's parked on Main.") or creating stories that connect each element to be remembered is also helpful.

The more compact or meaningful the mnemonic or story, the easier it will be to remember the information.

Concentrate and relax

Many environmental stimuli compete for your attention at any given time. To remember something, concentrate on the items to be remembered. Pay close attention to new information and try to avoid or block out distractions. It helps when you believe the information is important. Mentally telling yourself, "This is important," alerts your brain that the information needs to be stored.

It is also beneficial to relax. Have you ever learned something thoroughly and then forgotten it during a test or presentation? Anxiety and stress can inhibit recall. Slowing down and relaxing when trying to remember information really can make a difference. Learning a relaxation technique, such as deep-breathing or muscle-relaxing exercises, may help.

Get plenty of sleep

During sleep the brain consolidates and firms up newly acquired information. Studies indicate that people are better at remembering recently learned information the next day if they have had a good night's sleep.

Rule out other causes of memory loss

If you suspect that you are having memory difficulties, consult your doctor. Some medical conditions and certain other factors can cause memory problems that can be corrected. These include depression, hearing or vision loss, thyroid dysfunction, certain medications, vitamin deficiencies, and stress. Treating these problems may improve your memory problems.

Publication Review By: Peter V. Rabins, M.D., M.P.H.

Published: 07 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 28 Jan 2015