Can't remember most recent events

by Rachel
(Tasmania, Australia)

I'm 42 years old and have noticed my memory problems getting worse over the last 2-3 years. I forget the simple day-to-day things mostly.

memory problems story
Two of my children work part time, and often need me to pick them up from work. I ask them if/when they are working that day, and mostly I'll forget within a couple of hours.

Sometimes I just forget the answer, other times I don't remember if I've even asked them, and have at times, asked them the same question 2-3 times in one morning.

I am fine with long term memory, with one exception - I've always prided myself on my spelling ability - these days, words that I wrote with ease, have become a problem - I actually lay in bed at night and try to remember how to spell different words - it really bothers me !

Doug's Reply. It's not uncommon to become more absentminded as you grow older. My general recommendation is to take steps to improve the health of your brain. For a list of suggestions, see the bullet points in the "Health of Your Brain" section of my How to Get a Better Memory page. These include eating more brain foods, playing brain games, getting more aerobic exercise and restful sleep, and meditating.

As you work to improve the health of your brain, your overall memory ability should begin to improve/stabilize.

Now for your specific problem of remembering to pick up your children from work. I recommend that you use the visualization-association memory system to create "original awareness" of the moment.

The usual cause of absentmindedness is that you are not fully aware at that moment in time. Your brain isn't fully engaged; you aren't concentrating enough for a strong memory to form.

For someone who is absent minded, the visualization-association technique is an artificial way to force awareness. It is a memory technique you can employ whenever you need to set an appointment or other scheduled event firmly in memory.

The technique is simple but a bit odd. That's what makes it effective. Your brain remembers the unusual, not the ordinary.

The goal is to force yourself to think clearly about, and thus remember, that you need to pick up your child at a certain time. To accomplish this, create a silly or outrageous mental image that links your child with the time to pick him or her up.

For example, suppose you have a son named John. On a particular day, John asks you to pick him up from work at 6:00 p.m. (1800). As soon as he asks you, take a few moments to imagine yourself lifting 6 identical Johns (or 18) above your head, as if you were Superwoman.

Perhaps the Johns are all standing on a wooden board, and you are lifting the board. You might even add to the image that each John is hugging a large clock. Imagine this as clearly, and in as much detail, as you can.

Yes, this mental image is silly and weird. That's why it is memorable!

The very act of creating the image guarantees that your mind is "in the moment". This vastly increases the likelihood that as evening approaches you will remember to pick him up.

(Your true memory automatically distinguishes today's image from the mental images created on previous days. There is little chance of mixing them up.)

The visualization-association method is awkward at first. I encourage you to keep an open mind and practice it anyway. It is a very powerful technique.

As a practical back-up method for remembering, why not try a handheld electronic organizer?

When your son or daughter gives you a time to pick them up, type it into your organizer and set the audio alarm for 30 minutes before that time. An electronic organizer used together with the visualization-association memory technique should make it virtually impossible to forget to pick them up.

Regarding spelling, are you reading as many books as you once did? Brain skills, like physical skills, grow weaker with disuse.

Some ideas:
  • Buy an inexpensive crossword puzzle book and solve one crossword a day. This should not only help you practice spelling, but crosswords are excellent memory exercises in themselves.

  • Consider starting a journal. The act of writing out your thoughts and experiences each day will not only help you remember them but should also sharpen your spelling skills (as long as you look up the words that you're unsure of!).

  • You might also benefit from regularly playing online spelling games such as the free Spelling Bee game on my website.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful.

Best regards,
This is information only. It is not medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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