Improving Memory

Well, what was I saying

August 2016 Cover Story, Shifa News

When Lebanese-American poet and philosopher Khalil Jibran said, “forgetfulness is a form of freedom”, he might have been making a reference to the painful thoughts. Nonetheless, when forgetting everyday affairs, this “freedom” turns into a “nightmare”.

Aqsa, 25, drums her fingers on the desk as she opens the mail box in her laptop. She is also talking to her university fellow on the phone at the same time. Her table is full of books and notes as she has to prepare for the next morning’s test. Her eyes are bulging due to lack of sleep but she is not in habit of sleeping at night. She is so deeply involved in work that she completely forgot where she put her reference papers 15 minutes ago.

On the other hand, 49 year old Sameer, an office coordinator is going towards the main lobby with several files in one hand and some letters in the other. He forgets to take the right turn. He stands in the middle, staring and recalling where he had intended to go.

35 year old Saira, a housewife, is not any different. She stands at the grocery shop trying to remember what she forgot to buy.

In no different fashion, 18 year old Ali, a pre-medical student always forgets whatever he has memorized for exam. He worries he will not be able to score enough to get into medical college.

Forgetting is not unusual to Aqsa, Sameer, and Saira. They tend to experience the state often. Many like them have become victims to the fast-paced life where forgetting has become a norm. Such people suffer from the phenomenon known as “bad memory”. Hence, rely on mobile reminders, write down somewhere handy or request others to remind them. Well, one does tend to wish for having a better memory when stuck in an odd situation. But how can one improve memory? Does eating almonds early in the morning help?

Memory is the ability to learn new things and retain this learning. It is like software installed in our brain with three different versions. As Saba Shabbir, a psychologist at Hameed Latif Hospital Lahore explains it, one is short-term memory which is normal quality software that does not last long and can hold seven things for 20 seconds. Second, is working memory that has relatively better software which can retain information, but only if being attentive. “The third nevertheless, is the long term memory. It is the best software capable of keeping things in mind for a long time.”

Our brain holds one quadrillion information pieces, which means it is limitless. The memory software is installed in the neurons of the hippocampus (a part of brain). Its function is to process memories. “People with bad hippocampus experience memory issues. We remember things that we attend to and forget those which we do not,” explains Saba. So, the more we concentrate on a thing, the more we would be able to recall it when required.

According to researcher doctor Will Thalheimer, founder of Work-Learning Research indicates that we forget 40 percent of the things we did in 20 minutes, 77 percent in a week and 90 percent in 30 days. And with 70,000 thoughts a day, it is normal to forget.

Factors affecting memory

There are many factors involved in forgetting such as occupation, mental focus, basic education and background. “Sometimes it is also genetic”, says Prof Dr Samina Khaleeq, a neurosurgeon at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) Islamabad.

“While environmental pressure, disorganized life, lack of sleep, unhealthy lifestyle, eating junk food, having distractions, taking sleeping pills and stress are also some other causes,” adds Dr Faisal Mamsa, a psychiatrist at South City Hospital Karachi.

However, adding further he explains in case of youngsters, fast life and changing trends are also to be blamed for. It has become a norm to remain up till late night and sleep in day time like in Aqsa’s case. “This habit affects memory.”

According to Dr Samina, there are chemicals in our brains that are secreted at day time to help regulate brain activity and they depress in the darkness. People who do not sleep at night rely on the artificial light and thus start experiencing memory issues even at an early age.

Multitasking or being over occupied may be the reasons for Saira and Sameer to be forgetful, but Ali’s case is different. Dr Arslan Ahmad, a neurologist at Shifa International Hospital and President of Pakistan Society of Neurology blames Ali’s case on our faulty education system. It encourages rote memory instead of problem-based learning. “Ustad ratta lagwaty hian (teachers encourage cramming) that blocks our brain’s power to retain information for a long time. So, if you train your memory in a manner which enables learning or remembering through experience and experimentation one will not have memorizing problems.”

Good memory depends on an active brain. According to experts following things can be done to enhance memory and mental performance.

On improving memory

Eat well:

Eat a healthy diet that includes fruits and organic food. Drink plenty of water. “Stay away from junk and fatty foods which slow down your brain power,” says Prof Samina.

Be active;

 Both physical and mental exercises help. “People who remain active, engage in physical and mental games such as cricket, volley ball, scrabble, sudoku (mathematical puzzle game) and do yoga or meditate have good memory,” informs Prof Sudhir V. Shah, a neurologist at V. S. G. Hospital and Director Neurosciences, Sterling Hospital, Ahmedabad, Gujrat, India. “Meditation clears all negative thoughts from your mind and relaxes your brain. A relaxed mind has a better memory,” he explains further.

And befriend;

Moreover, Prof Sudhir recommends people to socialize and make new friends. Join different clubs to interact with people around.

Sleep well:

Experts also agree that sleeping well helps in improving memory.

Make schedule and concentrate:

Having a preoccupied mind and multitasking in this modern world has become essential. And it is no doubt badly affecting the memory. “People, who have an organized life, forget less. Therefore, stay focused, set priorities, do one thing at a time and avoid distractions,” informs psychologist, Saba.

Learn new things:

Memory improving techniques should start from the mother’s lap, suggests Prof Samina. It is a child’s first institute. A mother should teach her children to recognize things, new words, play with them and make them feel the environment around them as it helps open their minds. “When you learn something new, the physical grey matter of your brain increases in size indicating increase in storage. It is a natural treasure that increases with use.”

Enrich your soul:

According to Dr Samina, research proves that either reciting two pages of the Holy Quran or learning parts of it by heart daily is the best way to boost your memory. “It will not only enrich your soul but also increase your memory even if you are 60 years old.”

Stay away from stress:

Stress and pressure affects the ability to save and store information. Ability to remember reduces when the brain is flooded with stress-producing hormones. “It is normal to have these problems in this fast paced life. Do not let them consume you. Nip them in the bud as it harms your memory,” says Prof Sudhir.

Doctors also agree that a positive mind is a more contended mind. Such mind is less likely to forget things and always sees the brighter side of life.

Old age

The biggest myth in our culture is association of forgetfulness with old age. People who cross 60 are said to have saathiya gaye. The word saathiayana comes from saath (60). Dr Sudhir emphasizes that people can certainly learn a new thing at an older age. This helps protect them against diseases like forgetfulness, dementia and other mental diseases. “Therefore, an aging brain can also be a healthy brain. As our brains are equipped to remember pretty well till old age.”

Role of home remedies

It is interesting to notice that people in Pakistan strongly believe in rivaiti elaj (traditional treatment) for enhancing brain power that involves many things such as eating almonds in morning, walnuts, lamb’s brain (maghaz), onion, black cumin (kalonji), turmeric and honey. “But these things have not been scientifically proven yet,” says Dr Arslan.

Brain tonics and supplements

He further highlights that brain or neuro tonics, and vitamin E and coconut oil supplements are also regarded as memory enhancing medicines but science has also not proven their effectivity yet.

Jinn possession or mental issue

Experts interviewed also believe people usually feel ashamed in consulting a psychologist, psychiatrist or even a neurologist when it comes to mind or brain related issues, thinking others would mock them. “They instead prefer going to peers who tend to prolong the problem and eventually when the patient comes to us, the illness becomes difficult to treat,” explains Dr Samina. Therefore, do not ignore any mental issue and go to a doctor before it gets tangled.



Did you know?

–       Most of our memories form between the age 15 to 25

–       There are 86 billion neurons and 400 miles of capillaries in our brain

–       The hippocampus of brain transforms short-term memory into long-term

–       Hard workers use more part of their brain than others










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