If We Know So Much More When We Are Older, Why Do We Have Difficulty Recalling It, and More Importantly, What Can Be Done About It

It appears to be generally agreed that as we age our crystallized intelligence increases. I have found as I age that the instances in which I try to recall something, but cannot retrieve it have been increasing. So how is it that although we have more knowledge, it is more difficult to access? Isn’t that just a tad ironic?

Here it is important to distinguish between what is available in memory and what can be accessed at any specific time. So, yes, as we age more information becomes available in memory. One could argue that the difficulty in accessing this information is due to there being a greater mass of information to retrieve it from. Although this might be true to a certain extent, it is also likely that the act of retrieving also slows down and becomes more difficult at certain times. This certainly seems to be true in my case. The question is what to do about it?

I have faith that the information is available in memory and that the problem I am experiencing is temporary and that I eventually will remember it. Remember some of the techniques offered in the blog, “Recalling Information That Is Difficult to Remember.”

One of the first things to try is to alter the context of what you are trying to recall is to get new memory circuits to fire in an attempt to find the desired node. When trying to recall a name, and perhaps even a movie title, try running through the alphabet. Does it begin with an A…a B…. and so forth.

Another way of altering the context is to stop trying to recall the name and to think about the general topic. Start free associating regarding actors, actresses, and their films. This strategy has the potential for getting you out of your unsuccessful memory loop and into new associations that could lead to the desired item. What are other movies in which this actor/actress has starred?   What were the names of other actors and actress in these films?   So the general strategy here is to think about related topics with the goal of getting to the desired memory.

Another useful strategy is to think of the time period in which an event occurred. Often this is a good strategy to check to see if recalled information is correct. Some events presuppose others, so if the sequence is out of order something about the memory is incorrect. But even in this case of trying to recall the name of an actor, thinking about the movie, when you saw the movie, and the events that were occurring at that time can cause you to stumble upon, somewhat surprisingly perhaps, the name you are seeking.

When all these techniques fail, I fall back on my favorite technique, incubation. Incubation is a problem solving technique in which you stop trying to actively solve the problem. Instead, you let the problem incubate. I find that sometimes what I was trying to recall will pop into my mind when I am thinking about something else entirely. That suggests that your subconscious mind has been working on this problem. It is also a good idea to try to recall the information at a later time. Given the passage of time and a new context, sometimes what you want to recall will be retrieved quite easily.

I remain aware that I do have these occasions when I cannot retrieve available information that is not accessible at the moment. So as a preventive action I will practice retrieving the names of individuals and the key facts and terms immediately prior to a meeting. If it is an important meeting it is a good idea to start this well in advance of the meeting so that there is time to use all of the techniques we have just covered.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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