Why I Write This Blog

Sometimes I ask myself this question, “Why DO I write this blog, Healthymemory.” Surely there are better ways I could spend my time. However, on December14th I came across an article1 in the Washington Post that provided justification for spending the time. Now the Washington Post is a newspaper I respect. I have been a subscriber ever since I moved to the D.C. Area twenty years ago.

But this article contained misinformation and, more egregiously, missed important information.

For example, it presented a test, which it called a measure of short-term memory. It consisted of a shopping list of twenty items each with a specified amount to purchase. First of all, this was not a test of short-term memory. Although there are technical disputes among experts, the most common example given of short-term memory is looking up a phone number and then needing to keep rehearsing it until the number is dialed. There are two features of short-term memory: it has a small capacity, and it needs to be actively rehearsed or the information will be lost. A shopping list of twenty items exceeds the capacity of short-term memory. And unless the plan is to keep rehearsing the information until all the items are purchased, more than short-term memory needs to be involved. The shopping list needs to be transferred from short-term memory to long-term memory. The article notes that it is good to know that if people practiced, they could improve their memory. Although this is good to know, it is even better to know that there are memory techniques that can greatly facilitate the recall of lists like this one. These techniques can be found under the mnemonic techniques category on the healthymemory blog (healthymemory.wordpress.com). Some specific blog posts bearing on this task are “The Method of Loci,” “The One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic,” “Remembering Numbers,” and “More on Remembering Numbers.”

There is also a test on associating names with faces. Again, the article states that it is good to know that practice tends to improve performance. But it is even better to know that there are specific techniques to enhance performance on this task. A specific blog post bearing on this task is “Remembering Names.”

For each of these tests norms are presented for different age groups. The justification for this is that we live in a competitive culture, and that we like to keep score. But what if a person falls below what is expected for a given age group? Does that person start to worry that she is beginning to suffer from Alzheimer’s or some other type of dementia?

What is completely missing from this article is the new research that has documented the remarkable plasticity of the brain, and techniques that might not only forestall the effects of aging, but might also produce memory performance that exceeds that of her performance earlier in life. This is the news that should be reported.

1Are You Acting Your Age?, Washington Post, Health & Science Section, E1, 14 December 2010.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. 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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