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Keeping track of important things: Helping to Improve Memory

27.06.2019 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

“It’s hard for me to remember names when meeting new people, names of books, authors, dishes. I can easily reproduce all the details of the novel that I read, but I don’t remember the name of the book right away…”

“Okay, you don’t remember how the books are named, but some people have it even worse! For example, I do not remember some events of my life. But it can be very interesting listening to where I’ve been and what I’ve done or said. A friend of mine often says: “Remember how we did this or that?” I just look at her in bewilderment and say: “When did this happen?”

– From anonymous posts in a topic forum

Improve Memory

How often do you notice yourself being forgetful? For example, you lose gloves or claim that you have never been to a certain place until you are reminded of who you were with, what you talked about and what you ate. Or, perhaps, you miss the pill you need to drink before eating over and over again.

Such seemingly minor occasions may indicate the possible development of more serious memory problems in the future. To avoid them, constant training of cognitive abilities is necessary.

If we offer unusual tasks to our brain from time to time, memory and attentiveness, as well as ability to concentrate, think logically and unconventionally, will improve. In this article we will talk about how memory works and how an adult can increase its effectiveness.


  1. How memory works
  2. Types of memory
  3. Age-related memory features
  4. Causes of memory impairment 
  5. How to improve adult memory

How memory works

how memory works

A dialogue similar to what we wrote above could hardly have taken place between Napoleon Bonaparte and Alexander Suvorov. And the point here is not in the hostile positions of these famous commanders, but in their phenomenal abilities. They both knew by name and could recognize all their soldiers – tens of thousands of people.

Here is how Arthur Dumchev, an expert in the field of memory and attention development, comments on such examples: “Few people believe that they themselves could remember as much and all this because of the habit of abutting the limits set by the brain to circumvent them”. [1]

Memory is a complex mental process that manifests itself in capturing, preservation, recognition and reproduction by an individual of their experience. By memory limitations we mean selection mechanisms (filters) that block the memorization of unimportant information. The brain “decides” how important information is based on our reaction and assessment of the importance of an event in the moment, the depth of contact (“I saw it with my own eyes” or “I heard it from a friend”), similarities with the existing knowledge and the frequency of accessing memories about a specific experience.

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Types of memory

There are a few signs according to which the types of memory are distinguished: how long we remember, what we remember, what efforts we make to remember.

By duration of information storage

Depending on the duration of information storage, two types of memory are distinguished: short-term and long-term.

Short-term (working) memory allows information to be stored for no more than thirty seconds. An American psychologist George Miller explained the limited amount of short-term memory by a relatively small number of “units” of stored information – about seven. Short-term memory is a consequence of the formation of temporary neural patterns.

Long-term memory stores information for several years and several decades. It is based on the formation of stable neural connections. The volumes of information that long-term memory can store are enormous. But these capabilities depend on the operation of information selection mechanisms. The longer the information lingers in short-term memory, the more importance is attached to it, and the more emotions it causes, the higher is the probability of its memorization for a long time.

Some sources add sensory (instant, immediate, automatic) memory and sliding memory to this classification.

  • Sensory memory stores information in the current moment and disappears, moving on to the next moment.
  • Sliding memory explains the memorization of some amount of information for a given short period before the occurrence of a certain event and its disappearance after the completion of the event. For example, a student is studying for an exam in a subject that he/she does not plan to study more deeply in the future. Having well mastered all the material before the exam, he/she instantly forgets it after a successful passing.

By objects of memorization

Depending on the objects of memorization, the following types of memory are distinguished:

Memory typeObject 
ImagePhenomena of reality, images of people
Visual Forms and outlines of objects, appearance and manners of people, animal habits
Auditory Voices, music
Flavoring Taste of food
Verbal-logical Meaning of what had been read or heard
MovementsFeelings, emotions

By degree of volitional regulation

Depending on the degree of volitional regulation, on the purpose and methods of memorization and reproduction, arbitrary and involuntary memory are distinguished. In involuntary memory, information is absorbed and remains there per se. If we set the goal of memorizing certain information and make volitional efforts to preserve it, we are dealing with arbitrary memory.

Causes of memory impairment 

causes of memory deterioration

Approaching the question of how to improve memory and attention in adults, we need to consider possible causes of forgetfulness.

1. Non-observance of work and rest

A haphazard approach to the work and rest regime leads to a decrease in concentration and headaches, which inevitably affects the memorization of important information necessary for work.

2. Uncontrolled medication

Forgetfulness can be a side effect of taking medications. The risk increases when drugs are taken haphazardly, without a doctor’s prescription.

3. Lack of vitamins and minerals

Doctors have established a relationship between the balance of vitamins and minerals in the body and the level of memory. Thiamine (B1) affects the ability to remember information; the lack of it causes uric acid to accumulate, which can weaken the brain function. The lack of vitamin B5 leads to a deterioration in long-term memory. Vitamins C, D, B3, B6, B9, B12 are also important for the brain.

4. Bad habits

Scientists have proven that systematic use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs affects cognitive abilities of the brain. One example of such studies using a CT scanner: Alesia Schweinsburg from the University of California found that adolescents using marijuana had to put a lot more effort into doing the same tasks as their peers who were not addicted to drugs. [2]

5. Lack of oxygen

The most acute shortage of oxygen is experienced by climbers; sometimes this even causes deaths during the ascent. This is an extreme consequence of insufficient oxygen supply to the brain. But brain may experience oxygen starvation even in everyday life. Working or staying in an unventilated room reduces brain activity.

6. Information overload

Working with many different projects and a large flow of information at the same time disorientates and interferes with concentration, making one often lose their train of thought. The result is a decrease in the total amount of stored information.

7. Professional and emotional burnout

A person who is close to complete burnout loses his or her ability to work, experiences difficulty in making decisions and insomnia, becomes drowsy. In this state brain turns on protective mechanisms and blocks the incoming stream of new information and a person remembers less.

8. Increased emotional stress, anxiety

A person in a tense emotional state feels the need to constantly check and double-check information and the location of important objects (documents, keys, phone).

9. Stress and depression

Under the influence of severe stress or in a state of clinical depression, an inability to remember new information becomes evident. Against the backdrop of depression and stress, person may experience acute panic attacks. In this state the brain sends false signals about serious danger to activate the protective mechanisms of the nervous system, and blocks the flow of information in the current moment.

10. Physiological changes and head injuries

Memory impairment can also result from brain injuries and irreversible physiological changes (dementia or senile dementia). The materials presented in this article are not applicable to these cases.

As you can see, many of these reasons are due to the psyche. It is important to identify those that put you at risk in order to work with the problem purposefully and change current mindset. One of the effective ways to deal with memory problems is the 7Spsy behavior modification technique.

Age-related memory features 

A lot of scientific research has been devoted to memory change issues, which proved that our cognitive abilities change in the course of life. In foreign literature there are separate studies involving even infants. They were carried out using the techniques close to the conditioned reflex experiments of I.P. Pavlov. The following facts have been established in these works:

  • With age there is a rapid development of visual memory for emotionally significant objects: a baby remembers the face of his/her mother in the first six months of life.
  • In preschool age memory system significantly changes: in addition to the emotional-image and involuntary forms, arbitrary auditory and visual-symbolic forms of memory appear.
  • The amount of short-term memory increases by 9 – 10 years of age. Gradually, the child begins to memorize more: 6.4 characters of the text series by the third grade, compared to 4.5 characters at the beginning of schooling. At this age, it is already easier for a child to learn foreign languages, expand the vocabulary, and remember factual data about the world around them. [3]

Adult memory

As a rule, adults remember new information by logically and associatively linking it with their previous experience. In adults, this is a conscious process. That is why it is quite difficult for an adult to learn a foreign language from scratch – an adult can hardly learn a lot of information that does not have direct associations, “memorizing” lexical units.

How memory works in an adult depends on the intensity of its use. The less we memorize, the lower the memory efficiency – for example, if after graduation you got a job with a clear algorithm of actions that does not require constant mental effort.

Without a conscious approach to training, the risk of age-related memory changes in the elderly increases. Professional “insurance” against memory problems in old age is obtained by people whose occupation is related to the need to memorize changing instructions and long texts: actors, television presenters, personnel trainers, etc.

To concentrate on memorizing new information, an adult needs a key factor – motivation. We are improving our knowledge of foreign languages in order to travel more and increase our staffing value, and here the motivation is obvious. However, in general, the level of motivation to train our memory decreased with the development of the Internet, since information can now be checked at any time.

But it is important to think about the future, because a clear memory is the key to a healthy, happy life in adulthood.

Elderly memory

memory of the elderly

Aging is an irreversible process that encompasses the entire human body, and its manifestations can be found in all organs, systems and functions. Long-term monotonous activity and lack of proper attention to training the mind leads to the fact that memory begins to deteriorate after 45 years. There is a slowdown in reactions, amnesia, memory lapses and losing the train of thought. All this leads to social maladjustment, expressed difficulties in the professional sphere and everyday affairs. An unhealthy lifestyle aggravates the situation – if person for many years did not practice proper nutrition and exercise, abused alcohol, and smoked, while their health allowed it.

Elderly people remember better what is important for them or may be useful in everyday life. But more and more often they forget about the arrangements, meetings and appointments with doctors, and confuse names. It is difficult for them to admit that they’re having problems with memory. They feel insulted In response to comments by relatives about something forgotten, become irritable, and sometimes even aggressive.

The reserve capacity for brain development in the elderly is significantly less than in young adults. As a rule, improving memory after 50 years becomes a very difficult task.

How to improve adult memory 

how to improve an adult's memory

“Sometimes acquaintances admire me and ask how I manage to keep everything in my head, ask for advice on how to make their memory better. Personally, acting classes were a huge help for developing memory. Both visual and sensory, memory of sensations. It is important to constantly keep the focus on yourself, on the partner, on the space. Acting trains the ability to highlight the main thing and keep focus on it. And even after a long time without rehearsals, if I get into the familiar circumstances the text comes back quickly.

I am quite an organized person, keeping a daily planner, notebooks, notes on the refrigerator. But I want to note that I more often than not remember everything I need to do by myself, without planners or notebooks.

– Natalia, 43, sales manager

Classes in creative studios positively affect cognitive functions, the ability to make decisions, improving memory and attention. You can go to public speaking or acting classes, as Natalia did. Or attend classes at “schools of memory”, which are held in many cities at medical neurological centers. It will be useful to study independently or with relatives and friends. Let’s analyze some exercises and techniques.

1. Word games

This is probably the easiest way to quickly improve memory. Make a habit to list the words related to a particular group one after another with your friends while traveling by car or standing in a traffic jam. It could be names of birds, car brands, names of Hollywood actors. Or words united by a certain attribute: everything that emits light or makes sounds.

2. Remember the movements

Such games can be practiced as entertainment with children, but they are also useful for adults. Come up with your family with some shorthand. For example, a lead’s clap corresponds with players crouching with their hands on knees, a jump – with placing their hands on shoulders, etc.

3. Learning foreign words

Learning new words is easier using mobile apps. In apps, you can work with dictionary cards, constantly expanding the vocabulary. In addition, an app analyzes your abilities and gradually establishes the necessary repetition rate. An important condition for such training is regularity: it is better to use the app each day for 15 minutes than once a week for an hour and a half.

4. Intellectual games

Participating in youth quizzes and intellectual quests is not just fun, but also useful for memory training. Such events are held in almost every city, you can easily find ads about intellectual games on social media.

5. Memorization and recitation of verses

Such a hobby becomes especially useful for people of mature and old age. The support of like-minded people is important in this activity. Organize a hobby club; meet once a week on weekends.

Reader clubs, where each meeting a new book is discussed, also have a positive effect on the ability to keep information that you could soon forget without proper motivation.

6. Use of mnemonics

Mnemonics are special techniques of memorization that allow any person to memorize unlimited amounts of information. Mnemonics means using simple associations to memorize information. For example, images, words, smells, and other things familiar to you that can be associated with new information. Use imagination to learn this technique for improving memory. One of the most common mnemonics is the so-called “method of places” or “Cicero method”: mentally arranging and hanging theses and images in the corners, tables and window sills of the office or your room. When you need to remember something, you simply remember the room and turn to those objects the terms you need are assigned to. [1]

7. Classes using 7Spsy behavior modification technique

The 7Spsy behavior modification technique is a patented method based on the behavioral theories of I.P. Pavlov, A.A. Ukhtomsky and B.F. Skinner.

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The technology answers the question: “How to quickly improve memory and brain function”.

The method allows one to develop mindset that contributes to the qualitative improvement of short-term memory and the storage of large amounts of information for a long time.

The peculiarity is that the work begins with the identification of psychologically determined causes of memory impairment and is accompanied by exercises to eliminate them. In this method, distance learning is provided. The course is supervised by a psychologist who will be in touch with you by e-mail, over the phone or in a messenger.

The development of memory is your responsibility. By paying attention to this important function of the brain right now, you will make your life more productive and organized, and in the old age you will be able to maintain clarity of mind longer.


Dumchev A., “Remember everything. A practical guide to the development of memory”, Mann, Ivanov and Ferber, 2017Alloway T., Alloway R., “Turn on your working memory at full power” (https://unotices.com/book.php?id=258133).

Age-related features of memory (https://studfiles.net/preview/3852878/page:43/).