The Memory Cure: The Safe, Scientifically Proven Breakthrough That Can Slow, Halt, or Even Reverse Age-Related Memory Loss

The Memory Cure: The Safe, Scientifically Proven Breakthrough That Can Slow, Halt, or Even Reverse Age-Related Memory Loss

by Thomas H. Crook, Brenda D. Adderly

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780671026431
Publisher: Pocket Books
Publication date: 06/01/1999
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 6.84(w) x 4.22(h) x 1.02(d)

First Chapter

Chapter 1What Is Memory?

The dimension of the problem

What causes memory to decline?

Memory loss classified

The structures of the brain

What is memory?

What type of age-associated memory impairment (AAMI) needs to be cured?

Retrieval versus recall


Janice was upset and embarrassed. She frequently forgot appointments, and sometimes, in the middle of a sentence, she forgot what she was going to say. Only 58 years old, Janice worried that she was in the first throes of Alzheimer's disease.

Norman, in his early sixties, was concerned because more and more he found himself saying, "I know it; I know it...Give me a minute and it will come to me."

Typically, memory loss starts gradually. We slowly become aware that we aren't remembering as well as we used to. As time passes, however, we begin to forget important things so frequently that we can no longer ignore it. Yet none of our other faculties are impaired. We still have no problems walking, holding intelligent conversations, or enjoying concerts. So why are we having this increasingly frustrating and deeply worrying experience?

When it works well, remembering seems almost instinctual, something we take for granted. We tend to think of it as always with us, ever reliable, until that disconcerting moment when it betrays us: We're at an exciting party. Having had a couple of drinks, we turn to a new acquaintance to introduce our best friend, whom we've known since college, and -- can't remember her last name. It's never happened before; it may not even have happened to you...yet.

However, the fact that you purchased The Memory Cure says that you have some concern about the workings of your memory or that of someone you love. Rest assured, you are not alone. A brief review of the term "memory" on the Internet shows hundreds of sites concerned with various topics related to memory. Most have "brain-boosting" courses, tapes, or software they want to sell you. Others advocate herbs or supplements that purport to improve your memory. But only a few have any up-to-date information on memory research, and none that we have found bring you the full body of accurate information you need to deal with this problem.

A memory that is starting to fail is not something most of us are able to shrug off as "just one of those things" that happens as we get older. On the contrary, memory is vital to our lives. Its decline is both annoying for the things we forget, and, for most people, very disturbing for the serious problems it may portend. Without a doubt, memory loss is one of the most terrifying aspects of aging.

If you feel you are starting to lose your ability to learn and remember, you're not alone. Millions of aging Americans have similar experiences and similar concerns. Until recently, virtually no one believed that there was a serious, practical, effective treatment for a failing memory. Even today, few people know that such a treatment does, in fact, exist, although many European doctors have been using it for more than a decade.

Many physicians will tell you there's nothing you can do about aging and accompanying memory loss. But that is incorrect. In fact, it can be delayed or even restored by using a safe, scientifically proven, clinically tested natural food supplement that is available without a prescription in most health food stores in the United States.

The Dimension of the Problem

How big a problem is age-associated memory impairment (AAMI) really? Whom does it affect? How much does memory decline? And is it a precursor to Alzheimer's so that we can all expect to descend into that gray world of dementia if we are "lucky" enough to survive cancer, heart attacks, and assorted accidents and thus manage to live to an otherwise healthy old age?

These are vitally important questions to which almost everyone reaching or passing middle age wants answers. For those answers will, after all, have a determinant influence on the rest of our lives.

Until recently, memory loss was something we recognized intuitively but had not measured. However, in the last few years, research conducted by Dr. Thomas Crook (the coauthor of this book) and others has made accurate answers available. No longer do we have to rely on our feeling that our memories are declining; now we know the quality and dimension of that decline. And, in knowing those facts, we are at last able to do something about them.

Baldly stated, in the absence of any curative solution, the steady decline in memory in otherwise reasonably healthy people as they age is very substantial. While that sounds depressing, there are three pieces of very good news:

* Below advanced old age, say age 85 or more, the incidence of memory declining so far as to be classified as Alzheimer's disease (AD) is low. Probably less than 10 percent of the 75- to 85-year-old population suffers from AD; less than 5 percent of 65- to 75-year-olds show symptoms of the disease; and only a tiny percentage of people under 65 can be diagnosed as having AD. And even above 85 years, when, after all, for most people nearly all physical and mental systems weaken and break down, at least two-thirds of us do not have and will never get AD.

* Even more fortunately, the nutritional supplement on which this book is focused will substantially reduce ordinary memory loss. It will do this both by delaying the loss so that it happens at a later age, and by reducing the absolute amount of memory capacity that is ever lost. Indeed, for many people, this supplement will significantly reverse memory losses that have already occurred. We cover this remarkable supplement and the results it achieves in full detail in Chapter 3.

* Finally, the other five steps of the memory cure described in this book will further reverse the absolute loss of memory at any age, and/or help readers to improve their memory so much that, for alt practical purposes, their total effective memory need not decline at all. Indeed, in many cases, it is likely to be significantly enhanced.

Thus, the overall message of this book is that you can largely or entirely overcome the problem of AAMI with a nutritional supplement coupled with an easy-to-implement plan we call the Memory Maximizer.

Before we deal with the methods of how to overcome AAMI, however, we should first define the dimension of the problem we are seeking to solve. For, while it was generally recognized until the early 1990s that there is a decline in memory performance associated with normal aging, there was considerable disagreement about how severe this decline was. However, today we have a variety of detailed long-term studies to tell us more precisely the dimension of the problem we face.

* In 1991, Youngjohn, Larrabee, and Crook tested 1,535 healthy, normal subjects on their ability to learn and remember written information. The chart shows that, in this respect, there is a decline from age 25 to age 40-49 of 21 percent, and that this decline continues, so that by age 70-79, the decline has reached 43 percent.

* In 1993 a team of nine researchers under the guidance of Dr. Crook published the results of a definitive study on how age affects memory, testing 908 subjects for 90 minutes each with a sophisticated computerized test battery and organizing the mountain of data they obtained so that it could be thoroughly analyzed. The subjects were chosen from a random sampling of the population of the Republic of San Marino on the Italian peninsula.

The results showed a comparable major decline. For example, respondents were tested on their ability to remember names immediately and then one hour after introduction. In immediate recall, as compared to age 25, there was a 29 percent decline by age 40-49 and a remarkable 65 percent decline by age 70-79. An hour later, the situation had become even worse, with declines from age 25 to age 40-49 of 35 percent and 74 percent to age 70-79.

In all, Dr. Crook et al. have conducted more than twenty major studies of various types of memory decline and they all show a similar pattern. Moreover, these findings are consistent with the observations of virtually every other researcher in the field and with the more subjective experience of almost every practitioner who deals regularly with the elderly.

The sad fact is that, left unattended, our memories decline substantially with age. And that decline can cause a serious reduction in our effectiveness as we get older, hence in the quality of our lives. Happily, however, as we shall show in this book, today that problem can be largely or entirely eliminated.

What Causes Memory to Decline?

In order to solve the problem of memory decline, we first need to understand its causes. Until recently we knew surprisingly little about them. However, today our knowledge and understanding of how memory works -- and why it declines -- has been greatly advanced. Although we don't yet have all the answers, we do know that, contrary to what you may have heard, aging and memory loss do not depend solely on how long our parents rived nor on any preset, mystical time line. Rather, a variety of factors impinging on our busy lives, such as stress, disorganization, and lack of concentration or attention, interfere with our ability to remember important facts. Indeed, part of the reason that our memories worsen with age is that these outside factors become stronger and more disruptive. We have more to do, more pressures upon us, more information to sift, store, and recall. But that is clearly only part of the problem. The chemical changes that cause our memories to decline exist separately from any outside factors. They are real. (If they were not, no cure would be possible.)

We think it is important to emphasize that AAMI (now often also called Age-Related Cognitive Decline or ARCD) is not itself a disease and is not caused by a disease. Rather, it is a condition caused by aging. It is part of the normal process of aging and, in fact, memory loss occurs with increasing age in every type of mammal studied in the laboratory.

Memory Loss Classified

A declining memory means that you forget your friend's e-mall address, or the name of that movie you saw last week and want to recommend to someone. While these are not trivial, they are merely annoying lapses you can learn to live with. For example, you can carry your ATM number with you, appropriately concealed, of course. In fact, most of us take these small pieces of forgetfulness for granted. If that were all there was to memory decline, it wouldn't be such a worry. Far worse, however, are the memory lapses that reduce our ability to live our lives as we wish.

"I have to read every book twice to recall it," a 60-year-old woman, who recently returned to college to study history, complained. "When I was younger, one good skim through was enough."

Similarly, as we age we do less well on "source memory," remembering where we got certain information. Thus, we have more trouble than younger persons in distinguishing whether some facts are true or illusory. Cognitive psychologist Daniel Schacter and his colleagues made up some juicy tidbits of gossip. They told old and young participants that some were secrets that should not be disclosed and that others were common knowledge. Older adults had more difficulty remembering which were the secrets and which were not.

Brenda Adderly (the other coauthor of this book) remembers the experience of a close friend with a virtually infallible memory, whom we will call Kenneth. As a college student, and later as a businessman, Kenneth never took notes. He simply remembered everything he heard. As he explains it, "I couldn't understand how anyone could forget things."

Then shortly after his fifty-fifth birthday, he had an experience that was terrifying for him. "As usual," Kenneth says, "I had attended several meetings the prior day, and I recalled that one in particular required me to follow up on it. But I couldn't remember what I was supposed to do. I was horrified. I thought I was losing my mind," he recalls.

Although reassured by others, including his own doctor, Kenneth had slammed against a wall he feared was mental decline. "I was afraid it was all downhill from there," he says, "and I was terrified to think where it would end."

Kenneth was about to learn that to compensate for their reduced memory, older people can simply work a little harder. They can take more notes, write more detailed lists, and confirm everything in writing. Of course, while these techniques are useful to compensate, they cannot cure AAMI.

Kenneth's memory today, 15 years later is still strong. But it is noticeably weaker than it was. If Kenneth had been experiencing this problem now instead of a decade ago, this would not be the case. His memory would have declined far less, if at all. And today, we can stop his memory declining further -- and perhaps even help him to reverse some of the extant decline.

Indeed, the astounding truth is that a failing memory is no longer an inevitable fact of aging. It can be halted, reversed, and even effectively cured, and The Memory Cure will show you how. The findings reported in this book reveal that, for healthy people whose memory decline is due to aging, and not caused by a stroke or some other illness, taking the nutritional supplement recommended in Chapter 3 and following the memory maximizing plan recommended in Chapter 4 will help maintain or even regain a high measure of cognitive brain function, including the ability to:

* remember names of persons to whom you are introduced
* recognize faces
* remember easily forgotten details such as names and telephone numbers
* recall accurately the content of conversations and professional discussions
* learn and remember new information
* maintain a high level of concentration
* improve verbal ability

Memory is not a simple "thing." It is Complex, multifaceted, and fascinating, as is the brain itself.

The Structures of the Brain

There are many subdivisions of the brain, and it may perhaps be helpful to review some of them briefly to fully understand how the brain works. This will, of course, have a bearing on how memory and age-related forgetting occur. However, some of you may already be familiar with the structure of the brain, and others may lack a bent for anatomy and may be intimidated. In either case, please feel free to jump ahead to the section, "What Is Memory?"

Scientists believe that the oldest parts of our brain, the brainstem and midbrain, developed more than 500 million years ago. They are the first parts of our brain to be formed in the womb. Because they resemble the entire brain of a reptile, they are sometimes called the "reptilian brain." Sitting atop our spinal column, they determine our level of alertness, and handle such automatic and basic bodily functions as breathing and heart rate.

Scientists believe that before "bundles" of new information are stored as memory, they temporarily reside in a structure called the hippocampus, a horseshoe-shaped structure buried deep in the brain above the ear.

For the last quarter of a century, the hippocampus has been intensively investigated. So important is this area that it even has a journal (appropriately titled Hippocampus) dedicated to research about it. Studies conducted during the last decade with laboratory monkeys have further identified the structures within the hippocampal region, including adjacent areas linked to it, that are important for memory. We do know that the hippocampus is involved in the recognition of newness and helps "decide" whether important facts and events will be stored in the brain permanently. New memories are initially dependent on the hippocampal system and its adjacent areas, but they gradually become established in other areas of the brain. After the age of forty, the hippocampus loses a small percentage of its cells each year, accounting for some of the memory problems that occur with aging.

An extreme case of what happens as a result of such a cellular decline is Frank, who sustained severe injuries in a car accident. He can understand directions on how to accomplish a new task he has never done before and, with repeated instruction, he can accomplish that task. However, if he is asked to repeat the same task the next day, he will be quite unable to do so. He has learned nothing. That is because, with a damaged hippocampus, Frank can still comprehend incoming information, and understand what is being said, but he cannot hold on to the information for any length of rime.

The hippocampus plays an especially important role in processing and remembering spatial and contextual information such as the route to your best friend's house or the golf course. Thank your hippocampus the next time you don't get lost. Blame it, as you age, if you find yourself taking a wrong mm when you knew the right one perfectly well.

It is via the hippocampus that our brains have a communication link with the immune system and with our emotional memory: It seems that the cells of the hippocampus and the cortex are some of the continually busiest cells in the body.


Attached to the rear of your brainstem is the cerebellum ("little brain"), located at the back of your head just above the neck. It adjusts posture, coordinates muscular movement, and stores the memories of simple learned movements. We use this part of our brain so much that it has more than tripled in size during the last million years of human development, but it still isn't the largest part of the brain. That's the cerebrum.

Gradually developing over the past 200 million years, the cerebrum is divided into two halves or hemispheres, each of which controls the opposite side of the body. The hemispheres are connected by the corpus callosum, a band of some 300 million nerve fibers, which tends to be larger in females. The cerebrum permits us to develop our two most prominent and distinct ways of thinking: verbally/logically (left side) and visually/spatially (right side).

A one-eighth-inch-thick, intricately folded layer of nerve cells covers the cerebrum. Called the cortex (Latin for "bark"), it is 'the most recently evolved portion of the brain. The cortex, which could cover about two and a half feet if stretched out, is very convoluted and shaped by ridges and grooves.

Among its other functions, the cortex allows us to remember, to analyze and compare incoming information with stored information, to organize experiences, to learn to speak a language, and to make decisions. Without it, we would exist in a vegetative state, although still alive because the other parts of the brain take care of that.

With age, it appears that there may be a very gradual shrinking of the cortex. (Ironically, it becomes less wrinkled just as our faces are doing the opposite!) AAMI results, in part, from this shrinking. Perhaps we cannot entirely avoid this cortical change but, as we shall show, we may be able to delay it with the supplement this book recommends, and to compensate for the shrinking in other ways as well.

The cortex of each hemisphere is divided into four areas called lobes. Specific areas of the cortex and its lobes are devoted to the temporary processing of different sensory functions, and the type of information you're receiving determines which part of your brain is active. We know this from "pictures" or scans that have been taken of brains actively performing specific tasks.

The largest of the four lobes, the frontal lobes, has been associated with the performance of higher-level cognitive functions such as organization. They have the "executive" control of a number of complex mental processes. The frontal lobes allow us to make plans, control and focus our attention, make decisions, solve problems, and engage in purposeful behavior. They are particularly important for storing past events. Early research with monkeys, called upon to remember under which of two covers a piece of food has been hidden, indicated that it was the prefrontal cortex of the brain that was active during the problem-solving.

Injury or damage to the frontal lobe can leave a person easily distracted and unable to focus attention. In comparing older persons with younger patients who had lesions in their frontal lobes, Canadian researchers were able to show that at least some of the cognitive decline in their group of older persons matched that of younger, damaged patients and was likely due, therefore, to frontal system dysfunction.

The parietal lobes extend up from the ear to the top of the head. They receive the information we take in from touch, and are partly involved in memory expression for up to at least two months. The occipital lobes, located at the very back of the head and sometimes called the visual cortex, are responsible for vision. The temporal lobes, which fit under the temporal bone above the ears, are involved with hearing, perception, and language-generated memory (also called semantic and general memory). When a 56-year-old Japanese woman developed lesions in the left temporal lobe of her brain following surgery, her language and autobiographic memory were preserved. Yet her semantic memory for public events, historical figures, cultural items, knowledge of low frequency words, and technical terms related to her profession were severely impaired.


Between the brainstem and the cortex is a group of cellular structures called the limbic system. Sometimes called the "mammalian brain" because it is most highly developed in mammals, our limbic system helps us maintain body temperature, heartbeat rate, and blood sugar levels. It is the area of the brain most responsible for our emotional expression.

One of the key parts of the limbic system is the hypothalamus. It directs those emotional reactions that have to do with survival (the "fight or flight" syndrome). By controlling hormonal secretions of the pituitary and by regulating the activity of the autonomic nervous system, the hypothalamus plays a critical role in enabling us to cope with stressful events. However, as we age, out reaction to stress tends to change. Some of us become more frightened and "stressed out," but many older people are calmer, less likely to want to fight or flee. While no one knows how such increased placidity may affect our memory, one possibility is that our relative lack of hypothalamic arousal may cause our memories to be less fully activated, thus giving the appearance that they are less powerful as we age.

The amygdala (a-MIG-duh-la), another part of our limbic system, is an almond-shaped structure situated in the temporal lobe just in front of the hippocampus. Along with the hippocampus, the amygdala helps transfer information from short-term to long-term memory. However, its main function seems to be that of linking memories that were formed through several senses. Thus, when you register the sight, sound, and smell of the ocean, along with the taste of salt on your lips, the amygdala is busy at work processing that input. The amygdala also plays a vital role in our emotional memories, including the development of memories about unpleasant experiences, which can develop into continuing fears or phobias.

What Is Memory?

Memory is complicated; the theories about it range far and wide; the literature covering it is copious enough to fill a good-sized library; and, with all that, no one yet has all the answers. Your potential to remember began, of course, when you were born, but your memory ability took a great spurt when you were about eight months old. It was then that you had enough experience and brain growth to begin to develop what child psychologists call "active memory"; that is, the ability to retrieve the past, to hold it in the present, and to simultaneously compare and relate new or incoming information with that past knowledge. It's a skill you continued to develop and to bring into your adult life. It allows you to find connections between "pieces" of experience. That ability to continue to make memories and new connections during your lifetime has led cognitive researchers to believe that the brain actually has more plasticity -- that certain neurons can change structurally or functionally -- than they previously thought.

Do you remember learning to remember? Of course not. But you did. It's one of those abilities we take for granted and presume we've always had. In truth, you spent the latter part of your first year of life developing and practicing your active memory skills. By the time you were seven or eight years old, your ability to retain information for a short time was about as good as that of your parents, but it was not until you were 12 or 13 that your memory capabilities approached theirs.

Once you reached adulthood, and certainly by middle age, your memory started to decline. Gradually, this worrying phenomenon has been studied and understood. As a result, in addition to knowing that we lose memory capacity over time, we also know what parts of it we lose, and recently we have found ways largely to compensate for those losses. Therefore, before we show you how to cure a memory that is declining due to age, we must first define the key components of that memory and describe how they work. So to the task...

Memory can, most usefully, be defined from three separate perspectives: over time; by content; and by the process of its formation. Let us cover each of these in turn.


There are four reasonably separate types of memory over time:

* Immediate Memory. This is the sort of memory that lets you look up an unknown telephone number, dial it, and then forget it. Many of us cannot remember even the whole number. We look up the first part, dial it, and forget it; then look up the second-half, dial it, and forget it in turn. But even if you can remember the entire number long enough to punch it out on your telephone, if you are like most people you will have to repeat the whole process if you need to repeat the call even a minute or two later.

Naturally, people vary with what they remember short term. A friend of ours cannot dial a telephone number without remembering it for hours; but he will forget a new word he reads (unless he is concentrating, of course) in an instant.

We humans can only be conscious and aware of a limited number of items at any single moment. For most of us, our short-term memory can only contain seven "chunks" or bunches of information, plus or minus two, an amount first determined by psychologist George A. Miller. This means that we can think about or hold on to about seven different things or ideas at the same time. For instance, the letters S-E-E-C-I-A-C-B-S can either be thought of as nine different chunks (hard for most people to memorize), or as the three chunks SEE, CIA, and CBS (much easier to memorize, wouldn't you agree?).

* Short-term Memory. "Concentrating." That is the key. If we hear or read a telephone number or a word that is important to us, we imprint it into our minds and remember it beyond the "immediate" term and into the short run. Alternatively, if we are exposed to the same piece of information -- even a trivial one -- often enough, it too becomes imprinted. In either case, having entered our short-term memory bank, the information stays with us for minutes or hours. Nevertheless, the information is essentially temporary: We are not particularly interested in remembering it next week, and we are not likely to.

While the novice chess player may be able to think only one or two moves ahead in the game, grand masters can think at least seven to nine moves ahead at any one time. In one recall experiment, a chess master was able to reproduce nine boards from memory with more than 70 percent average accuracy, replacing as many as 160 pieces correctly. Clearly, that would have been beyond the capacity of most casual players. But that is not necessarily because they have poorer memories. Rather, it is because, for such players, the location of chess pieces is not very important and therefore penetrates only as far as their short-term memory, whereas for a grand master this information is viewed as important enough to be long term.

* Long-term Memory. Some of the information we assimilate short term is sufficiently important or repeated often enough to become part of our "permanent" memory bank. Thus, it becomes part of "everything we know." This long-term memory, then, encompasses the main portions of our education, our recognition of friends and locations, our job knowledge, and all the other vast body of information we carry around with us.

However, we have to put "permanent" into quotation marks because, actually, most of our long-term memories do fade over time. We knew a lot more about medieval history just before we passed the exam in college than we remember today. And we remember a great deal more about our current everyday lives than we remember about our lives of just a few years or even months ago. (You probably know the name of the current vice president of the United States, but try to remember quickly all the vice presidents who have served during your lifetime. Even if you can recall them at all, it will probably take you quite a few minutes.)

* Remote Memory. Finally, there is the essentially unforgettable knowledge, much of which seems to have been with us all our lives, that we shall always remember this side of Alzheimer's disease. This includes everything from knowing our own names and those of our long-time friends, to memories of our childhood, to how to recite "Humpty Dumpty." Even if, as a result of disease, we seem to have dropped part of this information from our conscious memory, it will come back to us very quickly with only a slight reminder. Thus, for example, if we are immigrants from Poland, we may not speak our native language for 40 years, only to shake off its dust and become fluent again after a mere couple of weeks in Warsaw.

Another example of remote memories coming back to the surface was first observed by the Canadian brain surgeon Wilder Penfield during his seminal 1950s work doing neurosurgery to relieve focal epilepsy. Dr. Penfield and his colleagues used an electric probe to stimulate parts of the cortex of alert patients preparing to undergo brain surgery. They found that they could often elicit apparently long-forgotten memories, both real ones and "generic" ones, i.e., "typical" scenes that were not precise memories.

It has been estimated that long-term memory can store a quadrillion (10) bits of information during a lifetime in different regions of the brain. For instance, the sounds of language, the meaning of words, and the various sensory memories are all stored in different sites.

Remote memory is usually not in the forefront of our consciousness until we need to use it. As we wrote this book, sometimes we relied on facts we had learned in college but had not needed to remember or draw upon for a long time, yet they were there. Once we do need it, we transfer the information from our remote into our long-term memory, whence we can easily retrieve and use it. Failure to complete this transfer can result in an experience we have all had, the "tip-of-the-tongue" phenomenon. We "know" the word or fact we want, but cannot recall it. We may have some sense of the rhythm of the word, the number of syllables in it, or even, sometimes, words with which it rhymes, but we can't access the word itself. Only later, usually when we're least expecting it, will the word often slip unbidden into our conscious memory. This experience becomes more frequent and harder to overcome as we age.

Remote memory has one other interesting characteristic, namely that our preferences and feelings can be shaped by encounters and experiences lodged that we don't consciously remember at all. For example, exposure to negative words flashed too quickly on a screen for them to register in conscious awareness caused people later to feel hostility toward a fictional person. Participants had no sense that they were remembering any negative information. And, in another experiment, anesthetized patients given suggestions that they would make a quick recovery actually did spend less time in the hospital postoperatively than patients who were not given such suggestions. Yet none of the patients remembered the suggestions. Remote memory is a rather tricky phenomenon!

The Ways Different Types of Memory Decline

These four types of memory -- immediate, short-term, long-term, and remote -- decline at different rates with advancing age. Thus, the degree to which age-related loss needs to be "cured" varies too.

The first and last types of memory; i.e., immediate and remote, decline relatively little. In the case of immediate memory, the phenomenon is hardly memory at all; it is merely the ability to reproduce, for a very short time, a simple piece of information that is perceived to have little or no lasting value. Even if our ability to remember such material declines drastically, say by 50 percent, that would only mean that, to remember what we immediately need, we would have to concentrate 50 percent more -- a large percentage increase, but nevertheless an insignificant absolute increase. Perhaps we might have to glance at the phone number three times while we are dialing instead of once or twice. But as a practical matter, this would make little difference to us.

At the other end of the scale, remote memory (also known as procedural memory) is so deeply embedded that we do not forget what it contains. Our remote memories constitute the bedrock on which all our short- and long-term memories rest. It is therefore unlikely to dissipate, unless our minds have become so eroded from disease or damage that we can no longer remember anything at all. Even then, many of these basal memories persist. For example, an avid lifelong golfer who had sunk into the final throes of AD was taken to a golf course. He had no idea what day it was, where he was, by whom he was accompanied, or what game was being played. He certainly had no idea why he was there. Yet, when shown a golf bag, he chose an appropriate club, and his swing, while stiff and a bit ungainly, still showed hints of his former elegant style.

The main declines in memory, then, come at the short-term and long-term levels. Of these, the declines in short-term memory are the more apparent for two reasons. The first is that, because large segments of the long-term memory are so well established that they approach almost the quality of remote memory, they are highly resistant to being forgotten. Thus, only a portion of long-term memory, i.e., that part adjunctive to the short-term, is easily subject to age-related decline.

The second reason that short-term memory declines are more apparent than long-term declines is that they carry with them more observable symptoms of memory shortcomings. With a declining short-term memory, the ability to remember names, faces, appointments, to commit a speech or a poem to memory, or to recall where we put our keys, all decline -- and that decline is very noticeable both to the people forgetting and to their family and friends.

Fortunately, as we shall show in a later chapter, short-term memory is also the area most conducive to improvement by mind exercises. Thus, for example, actors who are used to memorizing lines -- initially an act of short-term memory, although it may turn into long-term memory if the play succeeds or the actor-cares enough -- can continue to achieve prodigious memorization feats well into old age.


If memory can be categorized by its duration, it can also be viewed from an entirely different perspective, namely by type of content. Of course this breakdown could splinter the quality of remembering into a thousand subcategories. There is no end to the types of things you remember. However, for our purposes, it will be sufficient to differentiate just three: facts (called episodic memory by many experts); knowledge (often called semantic memory); and procedural memory. Let us examine the meaning of memory from these perspectives.

* Events and Facts. Factual memory is entirely straightforward: it is the ability to remember individual bits of information. It includes everything from remembering that one and one makes two, to recalling the name of the President of the United States. It also includes the memory of specific events which define much of what we experience in life: high school graduations, birthdays, weddings, funerals, and, of course, all the personal traumas and joys of our lives. Individual facts and events are the most easily forgotten of alt types of memory -- the more easily, the more isolated they are. Thus, new facts that come to our attention in context with our existing body of knowledge are relatively easy to assimilate and remember, whereas facts that are unrelated to other facts we already know are more easily forgotten. For example, if a new study on memory were to be published tomorrow in the New England Journal of Medicine, both of us would quickly learn and remember any new facts it provided. However, if we happen to notice that, in the adjacent Journal article, new information was presented about the tensile strength of babies' knee tendons, we would probably not remember that at all.

The act of relating facts we want to learn -- or want to remember -- to a preexisting body of information we already own is the basis for improving our factual memory. As we shall explain in more detail in a later chapter, most techniques for improving memory (by which is most often meant improving the memory of facts) boil down to developing ways of positioning the new facts to be remembered into a pattern of already known information.

* Knowledge. Knowledge, and the memory that underlies it, is different from memory for events and facts. What we understand -- whether it be the ability to speak one or more languages, the know-how to do mental arithmetic, the capability to sing a recognizable tune, or the capacity to write a book on memory -- obviously involves our knowing many related facts. But this is only part of the story. For knowledge is much more subtle than merely the accumulation of facts. Assuming that we could memorize the meaning of every single word in the Oxford English Dictionary, if we did not actually speak English we would still have a great deal of trouble making ourselves understood. Thus, knowledge is really a synthesis of an immeasurably large body of facts until their sum melds into a memory amalgam that gives us insight, judgment, and hopefully even wisdom. Often we call this immeasurably large group of individually unrecalled memories experience.

One example of the benefits of greater knowledge, which seems like a better memory, is that older adults perform remarkably better than younger adults in telling family stories, especially those related to their own past. In this way, older people help prevent what Dr. D. L. Schacter calls "cultural anmesia." Not only do older adults constitute a living legacy for their own families, but throughout time it is the elders who have kept the lore, the historical adventures, and the momentous events of their community or culture alive for the enjoyment of succeeding generations. "When older adults were asked to tell some personal stories from anytime in their past," Dr. Schacter writes, "raters who read the narratives judged the elderly's stories to be of higher quality -- more engaging and dramatic -- than those of the young."

Generally, knowledge is more resistant to forgetfulness than are facts. This is simply because knowledge is made up of so many facts that it is unlikely that they will all be forgotten at the same time. Consequently, the remembered ones provide the context for those that might otherwise drop from memory. In other words, knowledge is less easily forgotten than individual facts because its information is so tightly woven together that none of it can easily "slip through the cracks."

The problem with knowledge, of course, is that, while it is not easily forgotten, it is also not easily gained. Thus, at any age, assimilating new knowledge -- taking a new course at college, mastering a new skill, learning about a new neighborhood -- takes time and trouble. The good news is that, while it may require effort, learning new knowledge is not only possible but very practical at any age. Moreover, while it may take an older person longer than a younger one to internalize new knowledge, once the effort is made and the knowledge assimilated into long-term memory; it will not be easily lost.

Thus, here again is a very useful way not to suffer an unacceptable decline in memory as we age. Sure, we may forget more. But in spite of that, if we keep on learning, we may end up in old age with a larger pile of remembered knowledge than we had when we were young. We may even become the beneficiary of the rather jealous praise, "She's forgotten more than I ever knew!"

* Procedural Memory. This is the most basic type of memory of all. It is the memory of how we move, and act, and "have our being." As stated earlier, procedural memories are not often forgotten or even reduced except at the extremes of a mind-destroying disease. Until the day that we die we shall remember how to walk, pick up our glass and drink, drive a car, ride a bicycle, or sign our names. Of course, physical debility may prevent these activities; but, in the absence of serious brain disease, if we can't walk, it's a muscular or skeletal problem, not a mental one.


The final step in understanding what we need to know about memory in order to learn how to avoid its decline with age deals with understanding how memories are formed in the first place. This is important because the quality of our overall memories depends on two factors: what we remember, or fail to forget, thus storing up previously known facts; and what we learn fresh, or relearn at the point of forgetting, thus adding to our store of factual information. To oversimplify, it is probably fair to say that, if the sum of what we remember and/or learn is as great as the sum of what we forget, then for practical purposes our memory has improved even though our ability to remember new data may be slower, and our tendency to lose old data greater. And if we gain more facts than we lose, would it not be fair to say that our memory has improved? After all, in that case we have access to more usable stored information. That it required more effort to maintain this quantity of facts, and that it has become more difficult to assimilate new ones, is also true. But that is a separate issue. The happy state of affairs that pertains is that we now remember as many or more facts than we did previously. That, surely, is what effective memory is all about.

There are four processes, or memory generators, that can cause us to forget, misremember, or remember something:

* Paying Attention. This is probably the single most important aspect of gathering new, memorable information. We shall discuss this subject in more detail later, but for now suffice it to state the obvious, namely, that you'll never remember anything to which you paid no attention initially. Thus, you will notice the houses on either side of the street as you drive by them, but you will pay them no heed, and remember nothing about them the moment you are past. Even if you concentrate on some object briefly, such as the cars surrounding you, your concentration is only on a single, temporary plane -- to make sure that you don't have a collision. You take no note of the cars in other ways, and therefore forget everything about them the moment they are out of harm's way.

Less obviously, people who have trouble remembering the names of the folk to whom they are introduced weren't paying attention in the first place, when the introductions were made. We can rectify this forgetfulness through inattention (which is not actually forgetting but rather never assimilating the information in the first place) by making a conscious effort to pay attention.

We are less likely to forget topics or information that we are interested in than things that are not important to us. Anita Loos, author of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, knew this when she wrote "Gentlemen always seem to remember blondes." And noted memory expert K. L. Higbee recounts the following story to illustrate the same point:

A returning serviceman is met at the airport by his girlfriend. As an attractive stewardess walks by, he says to her, "That's Laura Nelson."

"How do you know?" asks the girlfriend.

"Oh, the names of all the crew members were posted at the front of the plane," he casually replies.

He couldn't answer her next question: "What was the pilot's name?"

* Selectivity. One of the advantages of growing older is that we are likely to have a better handle on what is important and what is not. As noted, paying attention is the first key to remembering. But, obviously, we don't want to (and can't) pay attention to everything. Therefore, selectivity is the key to remembering the "right" things, i.e., those that are important to our lives.

We have often heard the remark "She has a selective memory" used pejoratively. And, of course, remembering only bad things about a person can be destructive behavior. However, innately, selective memory is a powerful tool for holding onto or even improving memory -- or more specifically effective memory -- with age. A brilliant acquaintance used to turn off his hearing aid when someone prattled on at him about nothing much, the while smiling benignly and occasionally nodding his head in agreement. "Why waste my finite mental capacity on rubbish," he would demand, "when I could be listening to Mozart in my head or recalling a Shakespeare sonnet in my mind's eye?" Learning how to sift out what is important from what is not is one of the memory-enhancing techniques we'll discuss more fully later.

Another form of selectivity is what our brains do for us, without our fully realizing, when they filter out and eliminate interfering noises and sights before we even become aware of them -- or, if we are aware, before they can disrupt us too much.

Sandy moved to downtown San Francisco, where the sirens of emergency vehicles are never silent, day or night. She quickly learned not to hear them, unless she was on the street where it made a difference. Consequently, she was quite surprised when her mother visited and after the first night complained that the sirens had kept her awake all night. By the end of two weeks, her mother was sleeping through the night also.

* Adaptive Remembering and Forgetting. This is somewhat akin to selectivity, except that it is largely, and often entirely, unconscious. We forget those things which it would hurt us to remember, and remember those things it would hurt us to forget. For example, the trauma of childbirth is something most women forget. If they did not, they might be too fearful of the remembered pain to have another child. Conversely, they usually remember the rush of joy they felt the first time they saw or cuddled or breast-fed their newborn. That's what "makes it all worthwhile."

This tendency to adapt our memories so that they do not hurt us explains why the memory of emotionally traumatic events, even where they are preserved for a lifetime, are often distorted. Psychiatrist Lenore Terr's studies of the 26 children kidnapped at gunpoint on a school bus in Chowchilla, California, show this effect. When Dr. Terr interviewed 23 of the children four to five years after the event, she found a number of rather striking errors and distortions. She believes that these developed not only as a result of perceptual errors at the time of the event, but were also caused by the later unconscious effort to mitigate the stress of the memory of the terrifying episode. Seven of eight children, whose memories were accurate when questioned in an interview shortly after the kidnapping, exhibited distortions during the later interviewing. For example, one child remembered a pair of female kidnappers (there were none) in addition to the male kidnappers. Another remembered that one of the kidnappers had pillows stuffed in his pants, also a mistaken memory.

While adaptive memory is often unconscious, it can also be consciously influenced. You can practice forgetting the bad things that happen to you and, with conscious effort, replace them with memories of the good times. After all, if you are concentrating hard on remembering and visualizing the day you won the contest, you cannot concurrently be depressed by the memory of how badly you did the year before.

Indeed, many cases of clinical depression can be explained as the malfunction of adaptive memory: depressed people remember the things that are bad for them to remember. While it would be naive to suggest that all depression can be cured by an act of will, i.e., by remembering the good times and banishing the memory of the bad, there is a sound basis to cognitive therapy and other psychological approaches that use this method as a key weapon in their arsenal of techniques for treating depression.

More practically, there is little doubt that a bad mood -- a sort of limited or temporary depressions -- will also give rise to maladaptive memory retention, albeit in comparatively minor degree. Whereas making a conscious effort to banish depression may be impossible for most depressed people, banishing or at least mitigating a dark mood is a lot more feasible. In so doing you will be concentrating on remembering the good times. As a result (since they are more fun to remember), you will probably find your memory improving. At the very least, you will feel as if it is improving. Therefore, you will have the sense of well-being that accompanies improved memory, and you will "feel better about yourself." Your memory will either improve, or, at worst, you will be as happy as if it had!

* Misremembering. Part of the complexity in determining exactly how and why we forget as we age stems first from the basic fact that human memory is imperfect at all ages. Memories are not exact recordings of an experience. To some extent we use our knowledge of the world and similar experiences to "fill in" incomplete or missing information in our memories. These "gap fillers" may be valid, but they can just as easily lead to memory error, which, when called to our attention, may seem like memory loss.

Recent theories of how the brain works influence the whole question of whether memories are "true" or "false." A large body of research has shown that memories are often somewhat distorted. Indeed, as any historian will tell you, past events can be interpreted in many different ways with no one set of recollections representing the absolute "truth." Recovered memories may be particularly unreliable, especially in borderline patients who may have had a distorted perception of the interpersonal events to begin with. According to the research of Nobel prize-winning neuroscientist Dr. Gerald Edelman, the brain chooses images, sounds, and other sensations and interpretations registered in the past and then combines them to produce what we call a memory. This "memory" may be an accurate depiction of something that happened, but it can just as easily be a personal creation, using information from various incidents.

It's very likely that in trauma, when emotions and sensations are intense -- and may even be on overload -- that the actual memory of the experience is fragmented. Consequently, only fragments of a remembered traumatic event are likely to be entirely accurate when they are re-remembered, while other parts may be derived from different experiences as the aroused nervous system searches around and tries to comprehend the re-aroused emotion.

Cognitive psychologist Craig Barclay asked college students to keep a diary in which they recorded things that happened to them just after they occurred (actual memories). Dr. Barclay collected the diaries and subsequently tested the students' memories for these events at delays ranging from several months to two years. Sometimes he showed them a printed version of an actual diary and asked them if this was exactly what they had written down. Other times the descriptions were changed in various respects, like adding that a person had hunted for a gift in ten stores before giving up, when, in fact, she had never written that in her diary. As time passed, students increasingly agreed that the changed descriptions (false memories) were exactly what they had written down earlier.

Naturally, then, as people age, more and more false memories of long past events will occur. While this does not mean that, in theory, older people's memories of immediate facts will necessarily be worse, it does suggest that older people's memories may be more confused by incorrectly remembered data. Therefore, they are more likely to confuse all memory, distant or fairly recent. (For example, if you incorrectly remember that San Diego is north of San Francisco, you will probably also misremember its climatic conditions. Your current Memory will be confused by incorrect earlier information.)

What Type of AAMI Needs to Be Cured?

Once we understand that immediate and remote memory does not degrade significantly, that knowledge only fades very slowly, and that procedural memory hardly declines at all, we know where we need to concentrate our memory-improving efforts. Short- and long-term memory (and especially where the two approach one another, i.e., lengthy short- and short-duration long-term memory) are where we need to work. And those efforts should be aimed at learning how to hold onto factual information by fitting it into a pattern of the rest of our less fragile, more permanent matrix of memories.

Retrieval versus Recall

One final matter, before we move on, about what constitutes memory and what we should do about it: Remembered facts are only useful to the extent that they are available to us when we need them. Therefore, not only do we have to be able to store information in our memories, but we also have to be able to retrieve it at will and reasonably quickly. Unfortunately, that retrieval mechanism slows down with age, which is a major reason we think that our memories are weakening.

There are three main reasons why retrieval slows:

* One of the most important is that we simply have too many facts from which to choose. This is, of course, where selectivity comes into play as the method of eliminating the unessential and so making essential memories more easily unearthed.

* We concentrate less intensely on finding the information we seek as we get older. "Oh, it'll come to me," we think and move on to the next subject. This may be useful adaptive behavior, provided that we do not permit it to escalate into the sort of mental laziness that will certainly interfere with our thinking processes including our memories.

* And, most importantly, the speed with which we can retrieve information slows because, as we shall describe, the conductivity of our brains decreases as we age, hence the speed and accuracy of the electrically coded messages that carry memory declines. This problem is chemically induced and therefore, thankfully, can be chemically cured.

Summary: What Is Memory?

While memory is, obviously, the ability to remember all matters, the part that is most prone to decline -- and on which we must therefore concentrate -- is the short- to medium-term memory of facts. These memories have been created and more or less finely honed, and can therefore be re-created and strengthened by: paying attention to what is to be remembered; sifting out those matters which are worth remembering; anchoring them into a preexistent matrix of well-remembered data; and, as far as possible, concentrating on those memories that are "good for us."

Copyright © 1998, 1999 by Affinity Communications Corporation Illustration: Mitch Frey, 1998

Table of Contents

An Important Note to Our Readers
1 What Is Memory?
2 Why Do We Forget?
3 PS: New Hope for Enhancing Memory
4 The Six-Step Memory Cure
5 The Memory Maximizer
6 Protect Your Health
7 PS-Boosting Supplements
8 Dealing with Stress
9 Exercise to Maintain Good Health
10 When Age Isn't the Cause
11 Smart Drugs and Memory
12 The Future of Memory Treatment

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