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posted: 7/16/2012 6:00 AM

Memory strategies help fend off forgetfulness

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Q. As I've gotten older, I've started to forget things here and there. Can you give me some strategies for improving my everyday memory?

A. Believe me, you're not alone. Most of us experience more forgetfulness as we get older. And most of us who become a little forgetful don't have, and never will have, Alzheimer's disease or another type of dementia.

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Fortunately, there are plenty of behavioral strategies you can use to improve your memory. Many are simple things that you probably do already. But you still can benefit from doing them more regularly.

Focus: Enhance your focus and attention with some simple tricks. When someone is talking to you, look at the person and listen closely. If you miss something, ask the person to repeat it. To the maximum extent that life allows, avoid multitasking: Do one thing at a time. Avoid interruptions. You actually have more control over this than you think.

Repeat: You will remember new information more effectively if you repeat it to yourself or out loud as soon as you can after learning it. Studies of brain function show that this practice helps to "hard-wire" new information into your memory.

Ask for clarification: When someone says something you want to understand but don't, ask questions. It's natural to be reluctant to ask questions when you don't understand something; no one likes to look dumb. But if the information is interesting or important to you, say you don't understand and ask.

For one thing, you'll be surprised by how often others you ask are delighted by your question, because it shows you really are interested in what they have to say. Plus, now and then, you'll discover that the problem is not your brain. The problem is that they don't know what they're talking about.

Make a note: When something significant occurs to you, write it down right away. The act of writing things down actually helps reinforce them in your mind.

Practice spaced rehearsal: If you have trouble retaining complicated information, try learning the information over time, rather than all at once. Write down the main points and then review your notes once or twice. Read them again the following day and then again the day after.

Do small tasks first: It's only natural to turn your attention to the large, important tasks. But then the small tasks pile up and get forgotten. If you act on them quickly, you don't have to worry about remembering to do them later.

Be patient: As you age, your brain processes information more slowly. Give yourself the time you need to absorb new information.

• Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. Go to his website to send questions and get additional information: AskDoctorK.com.

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