Dr. Oz's Rx: How to Help Your Memory Out

Here are three ways to remember things better.

People often come to me panicked about some senior moment they just had, as in, I forgot to get milk — and that's the main reason I went to the store! Are their minds going, they wonder?

I know it's hard not to worry, but everyone has their gray-matter hiccups. Some of us can remember every episode from a 1980s TV series but always forget a spouse's birthday. It's no trouble for me to retain complex chemistry principles, but my family makes fun of me for spacing on things like the words to "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." Memory is funny that way (except maybe for that spouse debacle).

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Fortunately, our brains come with an all-natural booster. Science has revealed that our memories tend to work really well when information is presented as a story with emotions attached. In fact, there's a phenomenon called the Baker-baker paradox that says you're more likely to remember someone's face if you're told that person is a baker than if you learn that their last name is Baker. That's likely because the job of baker makes us think about the stories that go into creating sweets, and we associate all those things with the person, while the name Baker tells us pretty much nothing. When there's meaning to what we learn, it sticks better. So listen to the tales people tell you and attach their names to that ("Amy with the dachshund," or "Steve the snowshoer").

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For details that don't have narratives? There are plenty of systems to help you out, like phone alerts that prompt you on birthdays. And you can always go back to the store and get the milk. No big deal.

I tell people not to drive themselves crazy because of something they forgot. Instead, celebrate the awesomeness of everything you remember.

3 Ways to Remember Better

  1. Try closing your eyes to aid recall.
  2. Write by hand. It can help put details in the memory bank.
  3. Get more sleep. That's important info-storage time.

This story originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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