The Resilient Brain

Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

10 Ways to Improve Your Memory

Strategies and tips for strengthening your memory!

In my “What Causes Memory Problems?” I discussed the three causes of memory problems: disease, trauma and neglect. In “Are You Having Memory Problems?” I presented the 3 essential aspects of memory: registration, storage and retrieval. This week’s post and the posts that will follow are devoted to methods and treatment to improving your memory.

The serenity prayer says, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."

Neglect is the one area you do have the ability to change. If you do the same thing every day in the same way, even as small as how you scramble your eggs, eventually you lose neural connections. The reason people are able to hold certain memories long term is because these memories are based on cumulative memories, and the neural hubs and connections have grown and been reinforced. Events, dates and names that are not reinforced in the present will be quickly lost because you are NOT paying attention. Multitasking in this fast-paced world can cause you not to pay attention to the road, resulting in an auto accident, causing a brain injury, which can affect memory. Or you could be listening to music while walking and never see the edge of the road or the oncoming traffic.

 

10 Suggestions for Maintaining Your Memory

Try the following 10 strategies to protect your memory and keep it strong.

1) Focus on Attending

If you are listening to someone, repeat or paraphrase what they have said along with writing it down, if possible. Try different ways of attending, this helps make new neural connections. In a Dale Carnegie course, the manual suggests that you shake a person’s hand and repeat their name upon meeting. Now with Skype and other digital media this can be impossible, but you can still repeat information out loud and take notes. There is research on whether typing information into a computer or the actual act of writing on a piece of paper helps the attention process along with proper storage. It is important to have undivided attention when you are focused on the new information. The Chinese Ideogram for “To Listen” is eyes, ears, undivided attention and a heart.  If you are thinking, when someone is presenting information, you often are not listening to what is presented. Also, it is important to keep the task within your ability or understanding. It is extremely hard to properly process and store information when you don’t have a good understanding of that information or meaning of what is being said. 

2) Learn Novel ways of Thinking

Use it or lose it. Do crossword puzzles help? Yes. Does Luminosity and similar websites help? Yes. However, if all you ever do is crossword puzzles eventually other areas of the brain and brain connections will die off. It’s important to have a balanced life of conversations with new friends, new routines, and taking different routes when doing your morning run or bicycle ride. As mentioned above, those connections you do use will get stronger, however if you aren’t doing something novel, the connections you’re not using will die off. This is especially true if your brain injury is from disease and/or trauma. If you had a sport-related concussion and you continue on the same path of recovery, the areas that are damaged due to the TBI may never recover. You need to use your brain as much as possible in a variety of ways.

3) Stress Reduction

For many, this is one of the hardest things to do. There is extensive research on how stress affects your ability to attend, concentrate, store and retrieve information. Add to this a disease and/or trauma and your brain just shuts down. Heart rate breathing is extremely important. The heart to brain communication system is through the vagus nerve and the sympathetic afferents.  Through controlling your breath, you are able to have control of your brain and higher brain centers that influence registration, storage and retrieval. The emWave2 is a method to help you learn heart rate breathing. This method is not going to make the baby stop crying or make the leaky roof go away. Rather, it is going to give you a tool to help you cope better, which reduces the stress, thus allowing you to attend, concentrate, store and retrieve information more effectively.

4) Nutrition

What you eat affects your brain. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet that is high in protein and Omega 3 really makes a difference. I go into great details about the foods to eat and the foods to avoid my book, Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. Also, in the Brain Health Recipes portion of my blog there is a wide variety of recipes specifically to help your brain health and your memory. Lastly, as part of our integrative team, we have an amazing nutritional educator.  

5) Restorative Sleep

This area is extremely important, which is why I wrote a previous blog on sleep and devoted an entire chapter to sleep in my book. It is essential that you go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time, if possible. Do not have sound machines or the radio or TV going during the night. Sleep is the first area that is most effected by disease, trauma and/or neglect related memory problems. Rescue Remedy sleep is very effective, as is taking a soothing bath along with the heart rate breathing that helps reduce the stress in your life so you can attain restorative sleep.

6) Exercise

This is a lot easier than you think. Park a block away from your office. Walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator. Buy a big medicine ball and bounce on it while watching TV or a movie. Try isometric exercise. Try Tai Chi exercises. Move for a least 20 minutes a day!

7) Be Careful with Prescription Medication

If you had a brain injury, do NOT take any medication that will affect your central nervous system (CNS) unless it is LIFE or DEATH. Every medication has some side-effects. Only use the medication, if and only if, the positive effects outweigh the negative. If you are in severe pain and need to take a medication for your pain, be aware it will affect your memory. There are major drug categories that will affect your memory including sleep aides, steroids, antiepileptic drugs, tranquilizers, anti-anxiety drugs, and muscle relaxants to name a few. Again, be sure to use prescription medication and even some herbal remedies with caution.

8) Alcohol, Wine, Beer and Drugs

This is a no brainersm! Use any of these, especially together, and lose your memory. Period.   This is especially true if you have had a form of disease or trauma to the brain. So, this is your choice. Now I’m not saying I never have a drink of wine on a Saturday night, but if I do, I understand the consequences and do not plan to have a consultation or see a patient on Sunday.

9) Stop Smoking

With a brain injury there is a decrease of oxygen to the brain. When you smoke there is even less. 

10) Reduce your Caffeine  

This is a mixed area, because for some people with memory problems caffeine can actually help in the short term to attend or focus, yet in the long run it can cause adrenal exhaustion, which effects retrieval of information.

 

Now you have a choice. You can continue to neglect yourself, which will definitely cause you some form of memory loss. This is especially true if you have a disease or trauma to the brain. Or, you can take the 10 suggestions presented above and make changes to improve your life and memory.

The next blog will present methods and treatments using conventional, complementary and alternative approaches for improving your memory as a result of diseases and/or trauma. What is important to know is that there is a way.

Diane Roberts Stoler, Ed.D., is a Neuropsychologist, Board Certified Health Psychologist, Board Certified Sports Psychologist, and Trauma Therapist with over 35 years experience.

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