T Nation

Memory help

I am not sure if this should go in this forum or the off-topic, but here goes. My memory sucks. It gets worse every day, especially my short-term memory. What was I writing about again? Oh yeah, I am trying to figure out what has worked for people in the area of vitamins, nootropics, etc. I don’t have a ton of money, so I am trying to figure out what has been most effective so I don’t waste my money. Is DMAE by itself worth trying? How about that combined with ginkgo or ginkgo by itself? Should I be taking Powerdrive? How are piracetam and vinpocetine (sp?)? I have tried searching past posts, but I haven’t been able to find any solid answers, which I may never find anyway. Thanks for reading and any insight you provide.

Piracetam and Powerdrive. Or, just powerdrive. Also, pick up a book on memory improvement. The methods are well known and date back to the ancient greeks, so you should be able to find a harry lorayne book at the library. I recommend “Super Memory, Super Student” by Lorayne, and also the book by Kevin Trudeau.

One more point: While these substances will assist your memory, memory is based on association. If you don’t associate things properly, no amount of chemicals are going to be able to correct for it! It’s like storing files on your computer in random locations. You can increase the processor speed so that you can search the entire Hard Drive every time you want a file, or you can organize things so that you can immediately find them when you want to. In that case, powerdrive and other nootropics let you file things a bit faster and improve the reliability of mnemonic methods. But just like weight training, you have to use supplements in conjunction witha solid training protocol!

I’ve got a PhD and I’ve been studying human memory for over 15 years. My memory is pretty bad, too! In my opinion, there’s precious little we know about how memory works. There is, however, a lot we know about how memory doesn’t work. It’s not like a computer, for example, or a tape recorder, but thinking it is probably isn’t going to make your memory worse.

I think the books Nephorm recommended have limited utility, and Baddeley’s “Memory: a user’s guide” is a better choice. There are also simple things you can do (I’m not sure if you’re a student or not) such as reading, studying or practicing a skill in frequent small bursts (say, 20 mins/day) rather than in fewer longer sessions (4 hour crams). That kind of approach makes learning and remembering as painless as it gets. And don’t do anything afterwards that can interfere with the consolidation of what you just did. If you were reading, don’t do something with words-- Go for a short walk, have a meal, etc.

As for supplements, the research on ginkgo shows clearly that it has memory benefits for those with some big problem, like dementia but has not shown benefits with normals. Vinpocetine has shown some benefits (I take it). I get it from iherb.

Finally, keep in mind that memory is probably affected by so very many factors that more often than not, you’ll be unable to control all of them in any given circumstance.

Hope that helps.

Out of curiosity, why do you feel that the books I’ve recommended have “limited utility?”


Also, gwpeacemaker, you might want to check out some software called “supermemo.” It basically allows you to quiz yourself on a set schedule and track your progress, regardless of whatever retention system you’re using. That way, you can learn things incrementally over time, and the software will adjust to reflect your personal memory curves. It will quiz you when you need to be quizzed to maintain maximum memory retention. Just a thought. The website is www.supermemo.com. Just so you know, I’ve tutored quite a few people in addition to being a student myself, and I’ve found that mnemonic systems are the most painless way to get things to simply stick in your memory. You still have to review, and you still have to quiz yourself, but that initial hurdle of just getting things to stick will just about disappear. Good Luck!

Nephorm, please don’t misunderstand–I don’t think the books you recommended are useless. It’s just that I think the mnemonic devices they teach don’t have all that much realworld carryover.

For example, although it’s cool to be able to use visualisation to remember a string of 20 unrelated words, you rarely have to do that in real life. I mean, you usually have to remember thematically related information (such as for a class) or, if you have to remember unrelated items (like in a shopping list), it’s far far easier to write them down.

For the most part, many of the mnemonics in the pop psych books are ones that were developed out of necessity. The ancient Greeks, for example, obviously had no Palm Pilots. They didn’t even have scrap paper. Bad things happened if they had bad memories.

But today, most memory researchers will tell you the key thing is to offload effort–carry as little as you need to in your head. That’s why post it notes are so cool and why Palm Pilots are the rage.

Of course, you can’t use those approaches for an exam, but for studying I recommend the techniques in in my earlier post. Again, in my experience, once you do any advanced course, the need to memorize strings of unrelated information disappears and is replaced by concept learning.

For academic use, I do think simple mnemonic devices are good for remembering things like formulas, or key cases (like for a law class), or the periodic table. But again, that only takes you so far.

I just wanted to let everyone know that the TV huckster Kevin Trudeau has been jailed on fraud charges in the past. Maybe his book is good. But I wouldn’t buy anything from this guy.

lambchop: Understood. I pretty much agree with most of what you said, except about palm pilots. I’m sure you’re familiar with the studies that are showing that increased reliance on palm pilots and the like actually seems to cause short term memory retention difficulties?

When I first learned mnemonics, I would have agreed with you totally, and said that they had very limited use. But as I’ve become more proficient with them, they have become natural and I easily remember information as it’s presented. Also, I find mnemonics are very valuable in memorizing vocabulary, both foreign and native tongue.


Lumpy: He is most definitely a huckster. His ‘mega-speed reading’ course is a waste of money. But his memory book is good, and has good exercises to reinforce the methods. It’s hard to screw up systems that have been around for thousands of years.

Thanks guys for the info. I should have been more concise regarding what types of memory loss I am having. Mnemonic devices have worked for me and I never had a problem in school memorizing. I think I am a more visual learner in that I can read something and remember it, but if you tell me the same thing, I probably won’t remember it. What I have the most trouble with is someone giving me a list of tasks to do or telling me how to do something, and then not being able to remember it ten minutes later no matter how hard I concentrate on what the person is saying. I don’t know any methods to try and remember something like that, thus my interest in nootropics. Obviously, they are not going to make memory perfect, especially when I still don’t have a method of retaining the information, but I thought they might be of more use in the situation I find myself in.

Good thread. I just read through Ken Higbee’s “Your Memory.” I thought it was a pretty good intro to study techniques and mnemonics. Any advice on studying for say, a physiology class, lewd mnemonics and short study sessions aside?

Nephorm, I do not know of any research along the lines you are describing. In fact, I just did a lit search and couldn’t find anything, so I’d like the references if you have them.

I imagine, though, that it’s a similar kind of phenomenon that we saw with pocket calculators in the 70s. Relying on pocket calculators produces: more effort, less fluency in doing simple calculations. When I was young (groan!) there was a huge argument in schools about whether students should be able to use calculators. The thinking was that using them would rot your ability to do calculations without the calculator–make you dependent on them. To some extent it does, but calculators are everywhere and they let you do more stuff overall, so it’s a moot point. Same with computers. And relying on the periodic table makes you more dependent on it

So I’d figure it’s the same with the palms–perhaps using them affects prospective (planning) memory. I can’t see how they’d affect STM, though. STM has a very short duration and that information isn’t the kind of thing you’d use a Palm for.

Acontextual vocabulary, of course, is paired associate learning, and so, as I noted above, mnemonics work well for it. And again, I don’t think that’s a realworld task so much as it is an academic one. In fact, if I tossed you in the middle of a country and had you learn the language, you’d not be relying on paired associate mnemonics–it’s just too artificial.

GW, what you’re talking about is prospective or planning memory. I know this sounds boring since it involves no nootropics, but you could try a few simple things. One, silently repeat the information to yourself and try to picture it in your head if you can. Two, write it down and then pull it out of your pocket a few minutes later. BTW, most of us are “visual learners” in that visual information is remembered more easily than auditory information.

Pluto, what kind of advice for studying? Try those short frequent studying sessions: it’s an extremely powerful approach. It just takes discipline, but in the end you probably put in fewer hours overall.

lambchop, I’d have to dig it up, but I’m in the middle of exams right now. There was an article in the washington post that described the research at one point… you’re right though, it concerned long term memory assimilation, not short term. I misspoke.

As far as learning foreign language vocabulary, I have a student that did go to italy this past summer (for two months) in an intensive language learning program. She used the mnemonic techniques I taught her to learn large amounts of vocabulary. I’m currently studying italian myself, and I’ve found that I can very easily learn a hundred words in an hour or so, so the real memory challenge is just learning conjugation rules and grammar. Over time, the vocabulary becomes a part of your normal thoughts, and you no longer need to go through the mnemonic translation. As an example, I learned the french word ‘pimplemousse’ (which I’m sure I’ve just misspelled) by picturing a Bullwinkle with little pimples that are actually pineapples (it means pineapple). At first, I had to do the visual mnemonic translation, but know it translates immediately. Like I said, I think mnemonics are a great way to get the information there in the first place, and then you can actually practice the information to solidify it and let it just flow.

GW, I think lambchop is on the money here. One point that a lot of memory experts make (and I think it’s on target) is that people oftentimes think that they have poor memory for names, lists, etc, but the truth is that they never paid attention in the first place! Often, we just zone out when someone says their name, or something they’d like us to do, and then we’re shocked that we don’t remember. So paying attention to information is one way to make sure it’s remembered.

Thanks for the advice. Lambchop, no nootropics is fine with me as memory tricks don’t cost any money. What I have tried doing is paying more attention (although I thought I was doing a pretty good job of that already), and repeating to the person what they just told me. That way they can clear up any miscommunication, and it is easier for me to remember. Now, if someone could aid me with some methods to remember my long-term memory, i.e. what happened between the ages of 5-18, that would really help! Thanks again.

GWPeacemaker, you are most welcome. Let me know if you have any more questions. Oh, and one day you will remember a lot about that period in your life–but some of it won’t be true :slight_smile:

Do you mean I didn’t hit all those game-winning homeruns? Sonofa…