Three bright ideas for boosting memory

Staving off Alzheimer’s and other brain-related diseases isn’t always possible, but experts say an active, challenged mind is essential to mental health.

By Bev Bennett
CTW Features

When you forget the name of a movie you recently saw or where you put your glasses, you may conclude you need to sharpen your memory, especially if you’re a mature adult.

Look around and you’ll find a wide range of options for brain training, from crossword puzzles to specially designed products to research projects that need volunteers.

Companies are spending a lot of money to create cognitive exercise programs, according to Michael Marsiske, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of clinical and health psychology at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

In addition, health experts are dedicated to finding ways to reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Yet even though there are lots of strategies and theories, scientists aren’t at the point of being able to tell people “you should do this, this and this,“ says Marsiske, who has been a principal investigator on a long-term study of Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE).

However, experts can make some suggestions for what you devote your time and energy to doing, based on current research.


Try something challenging and novel, says Jeffrey Toth. Ph.D., associate professor at the University of North Carolina- Wilmington.

He recommends sustained cognitive activities that take you out of your comfort zone, such as learning a new language or taking up a musical instrument. In fact, doing something you find difficult may be beneficial.

“I actually think my non-enjoyment of video games may be helpful. I have to strain and pay attention because I’m not great at them,” says Marsiske.

The reverse also may be true.

If your skill becomes easy and habitual, it’s time to try something else, according to experts.


“Learn new things.Take on challenging tasks throughout life,” says Toth, a cognitive psychologist, who researches memory, attention and cognitive aging.

Still you may wonder about the efficacy of particular brain-training games.

A game based on recollection may be beneficial, according to Toth.

“I think that’s the type of thing we should think more of,” says Toth, who created Art Dealer, a memory enhancement game.


Formal training programs also may provide positive results.

In Marsiske’s ACTIVE research study, older adult volunteers who were given mental training sessions reported cognitive improvements for 10 years.

Volunteers selected for the training, designed to see whether cognitive training helps with everyday functions, underwent ten, 60- to 75-minute sessions of memory, reasoning and speed-of-processing exercises.

The volunteers received memory training, reasoning training and training in speeding up the time they spent in mentally processing information.

“ACTIVE challenged with something new and difficult; something that demanded something of people that wasn’t in their current repertoire,” says Marsiske.

Although some people in ACTIVE worked alone, being in a group may offer an advantage, according to the Florida expert.

“Some studies showed that small group training was more effective.You have peers who can model,” Marsiske says.

© CTW Features