Because we are so much more complex than a computer, adding a memory chip to our programs is not sufficient to improve our memories and cognitive functioning. The good news is that there are exercises to improve short-term memory that are fun and have been shown to have beneficial effects.
In a study presented in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2000 researchers reported that initial evidence of improved working memory in patients with schizophrenia following cognitive exercises. The improvements were in verbal memory but not non-verbal memory. (1)
Memory is the mental activity of recalling information that you acquired through learning or experience. Memory is either short-term or long-term. Short-term memories are stored for a few seconds or minutes – just long enough to compare prices at the store or dial the telephone number.
Long-term memory is information you make an effort to retain. It is meaningful in some way to you. It can be information about friends or family, material you are studying for a test, or something that made an impression on you such as a movie or the day your aunt died.
The areas of the brain that are important to the formation of memory are the hippocampus, amygdala and the cerebral cortex. In addition, memory also involves the communication along the network of neurons using chemicals called neurotransmitters.
Your brain must first acquire the information, which happens only when you are paying attention. Then your brain consolidates the information for storage. In the retrieval portion of memory the brain activates the same pattern of nerve cells it used to store it. The more often you retrieve information the easier it becomes.
There are several ‘tricks’ to improving your long-term and short-term memory. You can tailor the acquisition of the information to your learning style- visual, auditory or tactile. Involve as many of these senses as possible – even if you are a visual learner say or read the information out loud so it is also committed to auditory memory.
You can relate the information to data you already know. In other words the name of a new person is the same as your neighbors. Rehearse the information as often is as needed.
You can activate your neurons to fire in patterns that are not triggered by procedural memory. In other words you can do things that normally you do without thinking in a way that forces the brain to work harder. Play these games to improve memory by asking the brain to work in ways it usually doesn’t. These ‘games’ include brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, showering with your eyes closed, and getting dressed in the dark. All activities that you would normally accomplish without thinking can be done in ways that make the task a bit harder thus making the neurons work harder.
You can also play games with information you want to remember by ‘attaching’ a visual image to the data, using the information in a sentence, putting the information into an acronym or rhyme or including the information in a joke. All of these games to improve short-term memory can be used to improve your cognitive skills as well. The best thing you can do is relax and have fun because stress and tension will only decrease your memory –just the opposite of what you intended!
(1) American Journal of Psychiatry: Meta-analysis of Cognitive Remediation in Schizophrenia
Memory and Cognition: Visual Short Term Memory is not Improved by Training
Radiological Society of North America: Coffee Jump-starts Short-term Memory