Grandpa's Dementia Inspires Memory Improvement Book

by Matthew Welp
(Waukee, Iowa, USA)

My grandpa was a very special man. He was a larger-than-life character who overflowed with love and compassion for others.

memory problems story
Dementia robs a person's self-hood
Sadly, he was afflicted with dementia, and over time lost much of himself. It was almost 10 years ago that he passed away, but I remember well the frustration and helplessness that he experienced and that those who loved him experienced.

Largely because of this, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the mind and how it remembers:

Many of the recommendations for maintaining and improving memory are actually recommendations for overall brain health. Examples of such recommendations are to eat a healthy diet, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and keep the mind active by trying new things.

These are excellent things to do, but they aren't specific to memory. This would be similar to becoming a better soccer player by exercising, eating a healthy diet, and getting plenty of sleep but never practicing soccer, never trying new techniques or fine tuning skills specifically related to soccer.

Practicing using memory is important for a lot of reasons. For one, it's a chance to use memory outside of social situations.

Many people with weak memories, myself included, get anxious trying to use our memories around others. We get nervous we will make a mistake and sound stupid, and usually feel like we don't have enough time to think.

In social situations you usually can't try to remember something for more than a few seconds without it halting the flow of conversation. Also, it does not afford the opportunity to remember details.

Practicing recalling details is important, because it creates the habit of reaching back for vivid experiences instead of simple snapshots of memory. It's like fishing with a net versus a fishing pole.

Use Your Reason to Sharpen Recall

Probably the most important part of practicing using memory is the realization that we can use reason as a tool to make memory function better.

memory problems story
Matthew's New Book (View on Amazon)
For example, if I tried to remember the last time I drank milk, but could not, then how could I make myself remember?
  • I could try to remember if I poured it myself or if someone poured it for me.

  • How full was the milk jug? I could try to remember what the glass looked like that the milk was in.

  • What did I do with the glass when I was done drinking the milk?

  • Did I spill any milk?

  • Who was I with when I drank it?

  • Did I eat anything when I drank the milk?

  • Was it really cold or lukewarm?
These are all questions I could ask myself to help jog my memory. I could also visualize myself drinking a glass of milk to help draw out the memory.

There are a VAST array of strategies and techniques one could employ. There are so many things you could do.

Memory Success Requires Time and Effort

Having this mentality with memory is very important. Any query into memory is like a puzzle to
be solved. You have to have the mindset that the information is there, and you are like a detective that has to figure out how to get to it.

Memory has to be navigated like a maze to get where you want to go. This is a process that can take a lot of time, especially at first.

memory problems story
Memory recall is like navigating a maze
Practice makes the process happen faster. It should eventually become a habit for the mind to do on its own. If you get good enough at it, then you can start doing it as part of everyday life. That's the tipping point.

Lastly this: many people feel their minds are cluttered. What would happen if you tried to find something in a cluttered room?

It would take you a long time, and it would be frustrating. You may or may not find what you're looking for.

Now imagine doing this over and over again, day after day, spending time looking for things in this dirty room. Eventually you would throw your hands up and say, "Enough!" and clean the room so that it will be easier for you to find things.

I believe, over time, this same thing can happen with memory.

Doug's Reply. Your grandfather must have been a special person indeed. And you've found a way to make something positive out of his tragic experience with dementia: a method anyone can use to strengthen their memory.

I see you've recently published a book on this memory technique, inspired by your grandpa: When Was the Last Time? Questions to Exercise the Mind How exciting!

I love the concept. It makes sense that quizzing myself periodically about recent events in my life could help strengthen the links of episodic memory in my brain. I'm going to try this!

I've ordered a copy for myself. My episodic memory is terrible, so I'm eager to put your method to use in my own life.

What I've typically done to jog my recollection of events is review photos from my experiences. I also keep a written journal of events.

Revisiting old journal entries helps jog my memory of events, but it's a bit time consuming and there are many gaps. And of course I don't have photos of everything that's happened in my life, so picture-taking isn't a complete solution either.

Your memory technique has the advantage of being more flexible and quick and far-ranging, since it's done mentally and uses any possible experience as memory training material. I understand your book provides hundreds of seed questions to get the process rolling.

You've developed a powerful yet accessible memory improvement technique that anyone worried about their memory can employ. What a wonderful tribute to your grandfather. I'm certain he would be quite proud.

VISITORS: Feel free to add your thoughts and supportive comments to this story by clicking the "Click here to post comments" link below.

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

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Reproduction without permission is prohibited