Have you ever been working on a deadline when the computer network slowed to a crawl? Or tried to open a file that was not saved correctly? Problems can even occur when you saved the file properly. For example, you may not be able to open the file if it was stored in a part of the computer memory that later got erased or if it was changed in some way.
In a similar way our brains can slow down, and our memory function can change. As a natural part of aging, mental function, including memory, begins to slow down.
For adults who had cancer as children, this can be even more of a problem due to the cancer or the cancer treatments. It may take longer for you to learn things, you may forget what you learned, or you may not be able to recall where you placed things.
For us to call something back up, we need to create and store a memory just as we would need to create and store a computer file of telephone numbers or other data.
Below are simple ways to help in this process.
You can’t recall something if you never learned it.
- Try to focus on one thing at a time.
- If you get off track easily, find a quiet place to work when you need to learn something new.
- Listen closely when someone talks to you.
- Take written notes. Repeat back what you have been told.
Tailor Information To Your Learning Style
- Visual learners acquire information best by reading or seeing (pictures, diagrams, maps).
- Auditory learners learn better by listening (use a tape recorder).
Create Memory Links
- Link new information to what you already know. For example, link a friend’s address with the address of someone you know who lives on the same street.
- This technique makes it easier to recall new information because your brain has already traveled along the same pathways many times. The brain can find the locations where information is stored more quickly and more easily when the pathways are well-marked and well-traveled.
You can think of your brain as a complex computer.
- Use address books, calendars, notebooks, and electronic organizers.
- Make notes and checklists.
- Jog your memory at least once daily by looking at your lists or calendar.
- Put things you use in your day-to-day life in the same place every time you put them down (keys, glasses).
Divide and Conquer
- Break down large tasks into steps and write them down.
- If you must do something at a particular time, set an alarm. Let your computer beep you or send you a message. It can be a handy memory aid.
- Review what you’ve learned the same day you learn it and then at regular intervals (a half-hour later, then an hour later, and so on).
- Explain what you have learned to someone else in your own words. Try doing this with some new procedure you’ve learned as part of a computer program.
New information travels along pathways in the brain.
Taking care of your body can help you retain memory.
Exercise Daily: Exercise increases oxygen to your brain so you can learn and recall things.
Manage Stress: Stress makes it difficult to concentrate.
Sleep Well: Sleep is needed for storage of information in your brain.
Don’t Smoke: Smoking constricts arteries that supply oxygen to the brain.
Eat Well: Enjoy fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. These foods help reduce memory loss. Avoid saturated fats.
Get Check-ups: Have medical check-ups for ongoing conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. These can affect your mental sharpness.
Important: Do all you can to preserve your health and treat any condition you have.
Brain Exercises to Sharpen Your Mental Skills
- Test your recall — Make a grocery list and memorize it. After an hour, see how many items you can recall.
- Draw a map from memory — After you get back home from a new place, draw a map of the area.
- Do mental math — Figure out problems in your head (without paper and pencil or calculator).
- Engage your senses — Try activities that involve many of your senses, such as gardening or taking a cooking class.
- Create word pictures — Visualize the spelling of a word in your head, then try and think of other words that begin or end with the same two letters.
- Make new things part of your day — Drive home using a different route; brush your teeth with the opposite hand.
- Use the newspaper — Try to solve word games, crossword puzzles, or Sudoku. Look at comic strips where you find things that are different from one picture to the next.
- Learn a foreign language or a new sport or how to play a musical instrument.
- Play board games, such as Risk, Pictionary, Scrabble, or Boggle. Learn to use a computer or new video games.
- Learn stress reduction techniques, such as meditation or tai chi (a form of exercise). Sit quietly, choose a word that calms you, and when your mind starts to wander, say the word silently. Meditation helps with your ability to focus and decrease stress.