06/19/2009 - Articles

Age Smart - Memory Minders

By: HV


Many myths surround the concept of the aging of memory. Dr Harriet Vines, in her book "Age Smart", helps dispel these, and advises you on how to train your memory for years to come. This is the final set of extracts from her book.

 Here is the fifth and final set of extracts we have posted from the book "Age Smart" by Dr Harriet Vines. The book describes Dr Vines' approach to helping people progress into later life in the best condition possible to enjoy it, and to avoid many of the ills of old age. This time she discusses your aging memory. Robert Griffith, Editor

Where are my keys? My glasses? The car? What's that word, that name? It's on the tip of my tongue.... Sound familiar? Probably. It happens to all of us. Every one forgets - at every age.

Why then, when we forget, which does happen more often after ages 45-50, do we get nervous? We start to worry about "losing it."

The 3 Rs

In addition to the 3Rs you studied in school, are Memory's 3Rs: Register, Record and Retrieve. Each phase has its methodology. As a result, memory cooperatively provides junctures where you can intervene and improve it by targeting your exercises.

Probably nothing improves memory more than paying attention . Staying focused overcomes obstacles that obstruct registering.

Retention or long-term memory (LTM) is the mechanism by which material is consolidated and archived on strengthened neural pathways. There are different kinds of LTMs.


  • Explicit memories are the result of conscious efforts to learn material and recall it at will - telephone numbers, historical dates, scientific facts and figures, much of what you were tested on at school. This is the most troublesome type of memory to recall for people as they age.
  • Implicit memory is procedural. We use it automatically - to dress, ride bikes, drive a car.
  • Semantic memories are facts we had to deliberately learn but have become so deeply ingrained they surface without effort - the alphabet, family names, multiplication tables, the pledge of allegiance.


Active recall is the main issue for people over 50. It's that Tip-of-the-Tongue phenomenon. We remember, we just can't spit it out.

When you want to recall something, it's necessary to assemble the various bits and pieces that make up the memory, coordinate and combine them. It involves busy, dynamic multi-tasking.

As you can see, "memory" is one word for a complicated, multi-stage process. To improve your memory, you need to address each phase. You have to stimulate, develop and reinforce the underlying mechanisms. You must learn to use associations, clues and devices.

Age-Related Issues

There are normal age-related memory problems. It is unrealistic to deny it. Implicit memory doesn't weaken; you still remember how to ride a bike or deal cards. But transience becomes an obstacle as we age, i.e., facts do fade over time. In addition, recently learned matter may be elusive, and the ability to learn new information slows. However, if you make an effort to learn something well and you take your time, you are able to recall it as well as a younger person.


The best way to overcome memory's enemies is to pay attention to what you want to remember.

When you need to learn something, focus, concentrate. Remove all distractions, including radio and TV.

Consciously do what your brain does automatically: associate new material with what you already know. Unusual associations are more memorable.

To retrieve material, mentally recreate situations.

Don't try to do too much at once or at the last minute

Be prepared.

Get organized. Your mother was right; everything does have a place

Use calendars, appointment books, lists


Mnemonic devices are techniques specifically designed to help you remember. They are helpful, effective and efficient. It is clever, not a sign of weakness, to use them. Two excellent mnemonics are Memory Pegs and Rhyme Schemes. (These two techniques are described fully in the book. Robert Griffith, Editor) .

# 7

Mental Calisthenics

Say the months of the year out loud in correct order; now say them in reverse order; now in alphabetical order.

Sensory Drills

Whenever you answer the phone, try to identify the speaker before s/he says who it is.


Name as many uniforms as you can in 30 seconds

Weight Lifting

Answer the following questions:
a. According to the United States Constitution, if the vice-president dies, who would be president?
b. If four days ago was the day before Sunday, what will the day after tomorrow be?

No wise person ever wished to be younger. - Jonathan Swift

This concludes our series of extracts from Dr Vines' "Age Smart". Of course, the book itself (~150 pages) contains much, much more valuable advice. If you want to order it, please go to: http://www.agesmart.us/


How to Age Well, Stay Fit, and Be Happy. PhD. Vines HM , Llumina Press, July 2007


Created on: 12/06/2007
Reviewed on: 06/19/2009

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