RETRAIN

YOUR BRAIN
BY PAT R I C I A C U RT I S

>> 20 memory
tricks you’ll never forget
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Can’t remember where you put your glasses? Blanked on your new colleague’s name? “Forgetting these types of things is a sign of how busy we are,” says Zaldy S. Tan, MD, director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “When we’re not paying good attention, the memories we form aren’t very robust, and we have a problem retrieving the information later.” The key, says Harry Lorayne, author of Ageless Memory: Simple
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I L L U S T R AT E D B Y C H R I S T O P H N I E M A N N

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Secrets for Keeping Your Brain Young, is to get your brain in shape. “We exercise our bodies, but what good is that great body if you don’t have the mental capabilities to go with it?” Sure, you could write everything down, keep organized lists and leave electronic notes on your BlackBerry, cell phone or PDA . But when you don’t have access to those aids, or if you want to strengthen your brain, try these expert-recommended strategies to help you remember.

> Create memorable associations.
Picture Joe Everett standing atop Mount Everest. If you want to remember that Erin Curtis is the CEO of an architectural firm, imagine her curtsying in front of a large building, suggests Gini Graham Scott, PhD, author of 30 Days to a More Powerful Memory. > Cheat a little. Supplement these tips with some more concrete actions. When you get a business card, after the meeting, jot down a few notes on the back of the card (“red glasses, lives in Springfield, went to my alma mater”) to help you out when you need a reminder.

Brain Freeze # 1
“WHAT THE HECK IS HIS NAME?”

Brain Freeze #2
“WHERE IN THE WORLD DID I LEAVE MY GLASSES?”

> Pay attention. When you’re introduced to someone, really listen to the person’s name. Then, to get a better grasp, picture the spelling. Ask, “Is that Kathy with a K or a C?” Make a remark about the name to help lock it in (“Oh, Carpenter—that was my childhood best friend’s last name”), and use the name a few times during the conversation and when you say goodbye. > Visualize the name. For hard-toremember monikers (Bentavegna, Wobbekind), make the name meaningful. For Bentavegna, maybe you think of a bent weather vane. Picture it. Then look at the person, choose an outstanding feature (bushy eyebrows, green eyes) and tie the name to the face. If Mr. Bentavegna has a big nose, picture a bent weather vane instead of his nose. The sillier the image, the better.
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> Give a play-by-play. Pay attention to what you’re doing as you place your glasses on the end table. Remind yourself, “I’m putting my keys in my coat pocket,” so you have a clear memory of doing it, says Scott. > Make it a habit. Put a small basket on a side table. Train yourself to put your keys, glasses, cell phone or any other object you frequently use (or misplace) in the basket—every time.

Brain Freeze #3
“WHAT ELSE WAS I SUPPOSED TO DO TODAY?”

> Start a ritual. To remind yourself of a chore (write a thank-you note, go to the dry cleaner), give yourself an unusual physical reminder. You expect to see your bills on your desk, so leaving them there won’t necessarily
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CHALLENGE # 1
Study the photo on page 136. Then turn the page, wait a minute, and try to remember 12 or more things about it. If you get 11 or more, you have great recall. Now challenge yourself with a busier picture, in a book, magazine or even on your wall, suggests memory expert Carol Vorderman, author of Super Brain: 101 Easy Ways to a More Agile Mind. This time, try for 24.

remind you to pay them. But place a shoe or a piece of fruit on the stack of bills, and later, when you spot the outof-place object, you’ll remember to take care of them, says Carol Vorderman, author of Super Brain: 101 Easy Ways to a More Agile Mind. > Sing it. To remember a small group of items (a grocery list, phone number, list of names, to-do list), adapt it to a well-known song, says Vorderman. Try “peanut butter, milk and eggs” to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” “Happy Birthday” or even nursery rhymes. > Try mnemonic devices. Many of us learned “ROY G BIV” to remember the colors of the rainbow, or “Every

Good Boy Deserves Favors” to learn musical notes. Make up your own device to memorize names (Suzanne’s kids are Adam, Patrick and Elizabeth, or “APE”), lists (milk, eggs, tomatoes, soda, or “METS”) or computer commands (to shut down your PC, hit Control+Alt+Delete, or “CAD”). > Use your body. When you have no pen or paper and are making a mental grocery or to-do list, remember it according to major body parts, says Scott. Start at your feet and work your way up. So if you have to buy glue, cat food, broccoli, chicken, grapes and toothpaste, you might picture your foot stuck in glue, a cat on your knee looking for food, a stalk of broccoli sticking out of your pants pocket, a chicken pecking at your belly button, a bunch of grapes hanging from your chest and a toothbrush in your mouth. > Go Roman. With the Roman room technique, you associate your grocery, to-do or party-invite list with the rooms of your house or the layout of your office, garden or route to work. Again, the zanier the association, the more likely you’ll remember it, says Scott. Imagine apples hanging from the chandelier in your foyer, spilled cereal all over the living room couch, shampoo bubbles overflowing in the kitchen sink and cheese on your bedspread. 99

WHO REMEMBERS WHAT?
Men may bemoan women’s uncanny ability to remember every word and nuance of an argument weeks later, but there’s a scientific basis for the gender gap. “Men and women are different in every system of the body, and nowhere is this more true than in the brain,” says Marianne J. Legato, MD, founder of the Partnership for GenderSpecific Medicine at Columbia University. Because of a higher rate of blood flow to certain parts of the brain (including those that control language) as well as higher concentrations of estrogen, women’s memories have been shown to be supemore easily later, again thanks to enhanced blood flow to the brain. > Unpleasant, frightening or stressful experiences. Estrogen activates a larger field of neurons in women’s brains during an upsetting experience, explains Dr. Legato, so they experience the stress in greater and more precise detail. “Simply remembering an unpleasant incident can bring back the same terrible sadness and agitation to women that they experienced at the time,” adds Dr. Legato. On the plus side: Women may be better eyewitnesses at crime and accident scenes.
Maureen Mackey

rior to men’s in a couple of key areas: > The spoken word. “This includes stories read aloud from books, as well as verbal arguments,” says Dr. Legato, author of Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget. These things become more firmly fixed in women’s memories, are better “packaged” and can be recalled

Brain Freeze #4
“WHAT’S MY PASSWORD FOR THIS WEBSITE?”

> Shape your numbers. Assign a shape to each number: 0 looks like a ball or ring; 1 is a pen; 2 is a swan; 3 looks like handcuffs; 4 is a sailboat; 5, a pregnant woman; 6, a pipe; 7, a boomerang; 8, a snowman; and 9, a ten100

nis racket. To remember your ATM PIN (4298, say), imagine yourself on a sailboat (4), when a swan (2) tries to attack you. You hit it with a tennis racket (9), and it turns into a snowman (8). Try forgetting that image! > Rhyme it. Think of words that rhyme with the numbers 1 through 9 (knee for 3, wine for 9, etc.). Then
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create a story using the rhyming words: A nun (1) in heaven (7) banged her knee (3), and it became sore (4).

Brain Freeze #5
“THE WORD IS ON THE TIP OF MY TONGUE.”

> Practice your ABCs. Say you just can’t remember the name of that movie. Recite the alphabet (aloud or in your head). When you get to the letter R, it should trigger the name that’s escaping you: Ratatouille. This trick works when taking tests too.

unplug your iPod and shut down your computer; you’ll retain more. > Use color. Give your notes some color with bolded headings and bulleted sections (it’s easier to remember a red bullet than running text). > Makeamap. Imagine an intersection and mentally place a word, fact or number on each street corner.

CHALLENGE # 2
Give yourself a minute to study the list of words below, from 30 Days to a More Powerful Memory by Gini Graham Scott. Then close the magazine and write down as many of the words as you remember. How’d you do? Give yourself one point for each correct word.

Brain Freeze #6
“I JUST CAN’T MEMORIZE ANYTHING ANYMORE!”

> Read it, type it, say it, hear it. To memorize a speech, toast or test material, read your notes, then type them into the computer. Next, read them aloud and tape-record them. Listen to the recording several times. As you work on memorizing, remember to turn off the TV,

> PENCIL > WOOD > HOUSE > BOOK > TELEVISION

> BOX > LAMP > COUCH > NIGHT > MOON

Boost your brainpower with our Mind Medley game at rd.com/mind.

Scoring 9-10 Impressive! You’re an expert. 7-8 Great job. Keep up the good work. 5-6 You’re about average. Try again in a few days. Less than 5 Your memory needs a tune-up. Practice the tips on these pages to strengthen your skills.

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IWILL REMEMBER
An extraordinary story of memory lost and found
BY CYNTHIA DERMODY

>>

Andrew Engel was completely confused. Just days into his freshman year at Rutgers University, he was sitting in Sociology 101, listening to other students chime into a discussion. He had no idea what they were talking about. He had done his homework, paid attention to lectures and taken notes, but nothing was familiar. Everyone is so much smarter than I am, he thought. It was a foreign feeling, as he’d always been a good student and had graduated high school with a 3.9 GPA. The rest of his day progressed like an episode of The Twilight Zone. He got lost, again, on his way to the cafeteria, even though he’d been there a few hours earlier. Back at his dorm, he greeted his roommate with a “Hi, how’s it going?” all the while thinking, What the heck is his name again?
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He was acting like a person with Alzheimer’s disease—but he was only 17. By the end of September, he’d dropped a class and was studying with a tutor, yet he was still struggling. He decided he had no choice but to drop out, telling his bewildered parents he wasn’t cut out for college. Andrew had long wanted to get a degree and work in health care, and was crushed that his dream had been derailed. He was also distraught about being separated for the first time from his identical twin brother, Jason, also a student at Rutgers. He cried for most of the long ride to his parents’ house in Maryland. They thought it was anxiety and took Andrew to see a psychiatrist. The doctor couldn’t pinpoint a cause and blamed stress. But Andrew continued to act strangely and had trouble findREADER’S DIGEST

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PHOTOGRAPHED BY STEPHANIE KUYKENDAL

Thanks to drive, determination— and his GPS— Andrew Engel, 30, is finding his way.

ing the right words when speaking. He asked, “What’s for dinner?” after he’d just eaten. He got disoriented driving the streets he knew so well and, while running errands, forgot why he was out. “It was weird. I’d never had health problems before,” Andrew says. “I felt it had to be psychological. That I was overwhelmed and it was clouding my mind.”

Devastating Diagnosis
Andrew’s mother grew increasingly concerned about his unusual behavior, and when he started to show

to save new information, which is why the amnesia became glaringly obvious only when he was at college, in an unfamiliar environment. Doctors removed part of the tumor and zapped the rest with radiation, leaving Andrew so sick that he dropped 30 pounds. The cancer was gone, but his relief was short-lived, as he was told he’d probably never return to school. He had an above-average verbal IQ of 120, but his memory recall score was 68, comparable with that of a person who is developmentally challenged. His only career option would likely be

ANDREW CRAMMED 12 HOURS A DAY,
physical symptoms, including an unquenchable thirst and frequent urination, she hustled him off to the doctor. A brain scan made it clear: Andrew had a malignant brain tumor. The size of a peach pit, it was pressing on the part of the brain that makes new memories and could be fatal if left untreated. Andrew was scared, but he was relieved that there was a reason for his odd behavior. “He basically had amnesia,” says Andrew’s neuropsychologist, David Schretlen, PhD, of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. “This is the kind of memory that people lose as they get older, especially Alzheimer’s patients.” Memories are imprinted on the brain like data on a hard drive. All the information Andrew had downloaded before the tumor (autobiographical details, motor skills and what he learned in school) was intact. But the tumor had damaged the software used 104 a highly supervised manual-labor job. “Even as they told me this, I knew I wanted to try to go back to school,” Andrew says. “I didn’t know if I could do it, but I was really motivated. I wanted to give it all I could to get my memory back.” His parents feared he was setting himself up for failure and asked him to check with his doctors, neuropsychologist Dustin Gordon, then a postdoctoral fellow, and his supervisor, Schretlen. Andrew was looking for a way to retrain his brain and improve his memory. The doctors had rarely seen someone so determined, so they agreed to devise strategies to help Andrew absorb information in class and while studying, as well as techniques for organizing his thoughts so he could write papers. He would have to work ten times harder than other students and, if he became overwhelmed, possibly have to quit school.
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Extreme Dedication
Andrew began by auditing an English class at nearby Howard Community College. Eventually he discovered that reading things at least five times increased his chance of retaining information. In class, he wrote detailed notes, and a note taker supplemented what he missed. He reread his notes several times a day, then retyped them and the textbook material. He crammed 12 hours a day, seven days a week, breaking only for class, meals or a workout. To remember lists and data,

Six months later, Andrew is at his desk in the offices of Erickson Retirement Communities in Catonsville, Baltimore, where he works as an operations associate. He’d told his future boss, Russ Caccamisi, about his memory problem during the interview. “It didn’t concern me,” Caccamisi says. “Those ten years in school showed Andrew’s perseverance.” He

BREAKING ONLY FOR MEALS.
he used acronyms and mnemonics. When he took the class for credit the next semester, he got an A. “I was happy,” he says, “but unsure how I’d do in my other classes.” He enrolled at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, taking just one or two courses a semester toward a bachelor’s of science in health policy and administration. While he’d found a way to compensate in the classroom, everyday life was still a challenge. He carried maps and lists when he went to the store, but one night, after leaving a Baltimore bar, he roamed the streets for hours. It was 3 a.m. when he finally found the lot where he’d parked. He now has a GPS on his cell and carries digital devices for recording reminders. Andrew stuck with his program, and in May 2007, at age 29, more than a decade after he began, he got a standing ovation as he graduated with a 4.0.

still uses the strategies from college, along with computer calendar reminders and the tools we all rely on to organize our frenzied lives. “What works best is repetition and using more than one way to remember something,” Andrew says. “I’ll write it, say it, record it and listen to it.” Of course, an imperfect memory is still frustrating. He likes movies but loses track of plots. He vaguely remembers a family trip to Hawaii and is trying to convince his parents that they should return. Then there are his beloved Redskins. Though he can’t remember scores, he could tell you if they won. And when they lose? Sometimes, he says, it’s good to forget. I 105