If you forget someone's name the minute after you've been introduced to them, you may also struggle to keep important facts and numbers in your head. As for your desk, it's probably littered with post-it notes reminding you of dates, meetings and other appointments you might otherwise forget.
Sound familiar? Well you're not alone. Most people struggle to remember everything, thanks to our ever-busier lifestyles. So if you've ever walked into a room only to wonder what on earth you went there for, here are some memory-boosting tips to keep your mind agile:
Make up some mnemonics
A mnemonic is a tool that helps you to remember things. Most people associate mnemonics with acronyms, where a word spells out the initial letters of a sentence, phrase or other information (or vice versa ). If you studied music at school, for instance, you may have learned the notes on the lines of the treble stave – EGBDF – as 'every good boy deserves favour'. Or if you were an astronomy student, you may have learned a mnemonic for the order of the planets ('my very excited mother just served us nine pies' for Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto).
But there are different types of mnemonics. Rhymes are a good example. Most people know the mnemonic that helps with spelling, 'i before e except after c'. The rhyme that starts '30 days hath September', on the other hand, is a great aide memoir for remembering the number of days in the months of the year.
You can make up your own mnemonics for things you find hard to remember. Think of a simple rhyme to remember someone's name – for instance, Sally from the valley, or Sam likes ham. You could also use a visual mnemonic to remember someone's name. So if you're introduced to someone called George Woods, imagine him with a tree growing out of his head. It sounds ridiculous, but it works.
Train your brain
Many people find that mind games such as crosswords and Sudoku help keep their memory sharp. Similarly, learning a musical instrument can help because it makes fresh connections in your brain – in fact, learning any kind of new skill is an effective brain booster.
Researchers from the University of Zurich claim talking to someone may give your memory a boost, even more so than doing puzzles and other brain training exercises. Writing in the journal The Cochrane Library, the scientists analysed a number of different studies involving volunteers taking part in memory tests. They found that many achieved higher scores after taking part in discussions. So if you live on your own and your work doesn't involve that much conversation, pick up the phone and chat to a friend.
Routine may be boring, but it can help you to remember things. If you have tablets to take on a regular basis, take them at the same time of day, every day – with your morning coffee or evening cup of tea, for example. It will soon become a habit. Repetition works for other things too, such as repeating someone's name soon after you've been introduced to them (saying their name out loud will help you to remember it).
Learn to dance
Some scientists believe learning dance steps can help keep your memory sharp. A report from the Einstein College of Medicine in New York, for example, followed 500 people aged 60 plus who took part in a variety of exercises including swimming, cycling, walking and dancing. But only those who went dancing were found to have a lower risk of mental deterioration. Then again, any form of exercise will help your heart to pump blood more effectively, which means a better supply of blood to your brain. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate activity exercise per day.
Eat brain food
A diet rich in fruit and vegetables can give your brain the antioxidants and nutrients it needs to perform effectively. Omega-3 fatty acids – found mainly in oily fish such as sardines, mackerel and pilchards – are thought to be helpful when it comes to maintaining brain function too. Herbal medicine experts also believe a supplement made from a plant called ginkgo biloba helps to boost blood circulation to the brain, which may improve your memory as well as your concentration.
Get plenty of sleep
If you have an important event coming up – an exam or an interview, for instance – make sure you get a good night's sleep beforehand. Scientists from the University of Geneva believe that sleep helps your brain to consolidate new experiences and learning, as well as to boost your memory. That's because when you sleep, connections between nerve cells in your brain are strengthened, and that may help you to learn and remember things more easily.
Find out more about boosting your memory by reading our article Does your mind need a spring clean?
© CABA 2013