Here’s how to overcome those annoying everyday lapses.
Where did I leave my keys? Did I lock the front door? What is the name of that person I met last night? After a certain age, it seems everyone battles these nagging and sometimes embarrassing memory lapses.
"These moments may seem like an unfortunate part of aging, but they can happen to people of all ages," says Lydia Cho, a psychologist and neuropsychologist with Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital. "But don’t let them stress you out or make you question your ability to live an active and engaging life."
While recurring or worsening memory issues always should be checked out (see "When does memory become a problem?"), everyday lapses can be managed. Here are some tips on how to overcome some common memory situations.
When does memory become a problem?
Lifestyle factors like stress, depression, poor sleep, isolation, an unhealthy diet, and lack of exercise can contribute to memory issues. "Examine your situation to determine if any may play a role, and then see if your memory improves when they are addressed," says psychologist Lydia Cho with McLean Hospital. Still, it’s best to err on the side of caution and consult your doctor if you or someone else notices memory problems becoming more frequent or severe.
When you meet someone for the first time, make the connection meaningful. "Many times we forget a name because we didn’t notice it being said or don’t make an effort to try to remember it," says Cho.
Repeat the name back and immediately link it to something that may help trigger recall, such as the person’s appearance or job. Or associate the name with someone who has a similar name, like a celebrity, relative, or movie character.
You can also try to connect the name with a rhyming word, a song, or an image. For example, link the name Sandy with the idea of a beach, and imagine Sandy on the beach. Use as much detail as possible — picture her walking along the water’s edge or on a beach that’s familiar to you.
Finally, write down the name and the person’s relation to you (for example, your neighbor’s sister) in your smartphone or in a memory notebook specially dedicated to things you want to remember.
Do you ever question whether you locked a door before bed or turned off the stove after cooking? "We often forget routine behaviors because we are not fully engaged when we do them," says Cho. An excellent way to remind yourself of a completed task is to talk to yourself while doing it. Say it out loud, like "I’m locking the front door," or "I’m putting the clothes in the dryer."
Always put things you regularly use in the same place. For example, set up dedicated areas near the front door, in the living room by your favorite seat, and in the bedroom, and use these spaces for all your vital objects like phone, keys, glasses, and medicine. For objects you don’t handle regularly, make a point to focus on the location where you place them and, again, tell yourself out loud what you are doing; for instance, say "I’m placing the scissors in the kitchen drawer below the coffeepot." If you still don’t think you’ll remember, write down the location, or take a picture with your smartphone.
Online user names and passwords can easily get forgotten, but it’s not safe to write them down where others might find them. Instead, try an online password manager, like LastPass (www.lastpass.com), Dashlane (www.dashlane.com), or 1Password (www.1password.com). You store all your information securely in one place, and it only requires a single password to access from any computer, tablet, or smartphone.
Smartphones also are great for scheduling reminders for tasks and appointments, and their alarms can be set up for one-time or recurring events. You can also email yourself reminders, or leave yourself a note where you are guaranteed to see it, like the refrigerator door, kitchen table, or bathroom mirror.
Another approach is to create a visual reminder: put an object associated with the task in a prominent place. For instance, if you need to order concert tickets, leave a picture of the artist near your phone or on your memory table.
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