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Brain cloud? I knew it!
October 9, 2012 1:04 PM   Subscribe

How can I test my memory and keep track of how I'm doing?

I feel like I've been getting forgetful over the past year, but it might be confirmation bias. I'd like to find a way to test my memory regularly in a way that gives a quantifiable score, and keep track of the scores over time. If I do seem to be becoming more forgetful than normal I'd like the scores to be something I could show to my doctor.

A computer game or iPad app would be great, but paper and pen exercises work, too. One trick is finding something that I wouldn't improve at through practice (e.g. sudoku or practice SATs) and thus throw off the results.

Suggestions?
posted by The corpse in the library to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
This might help. Using the test too often might actually result in improving short term memory loss. At 59 I lose words on occasion. Find it hard to remember telephone numbers (10 digit). Small things which let you know things go away. I am not repeating myself yet...
posted by pdxpogo at 1:17 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a research coordinator in a experimental psychology lab focused on memory.

What kind of memory do you want to test? There's working memory, for which the classic test/exercise is the n-back test. People do get better with practice, but if you're undergoing cognitive decline, that will show it-- especially as N increases. We don't use this task because we don't focus on working memory.

For longer-term episodic memory, it really doesn't get any better (or simpler) than learning a list of words (Toronto Word Pool is a good master list) and trying to recall it, either with or without a distractor interval (which should be filled with engaging but not interfering activity, like arithmetic or sudoku). 16-word-lists are relatively easy, and we see ceiling effects in our data with adults 18-30. You might get more out of 24-word-lists, or forcing yourself to recall them in order (serial recall). There's also recall to criterion, in which you see how many study-test pairs you need to learn X% of the words, either in order or not. Have Excel generate the lists and test yourself. No computer needed.

If you really want diagnostic power, have yourself tested with a standardized exam, like the WMS, which hits all forms of memory. Repeat every 12 months. (There are alternate forms so you're not repeating the same items.) I will tell you, though, that we haven't seen a whole lot of additional information with that compared to our simple list recall task. It's standard in the clinical neuropsychological community though. A doctor may not listed to, "No really! I used to be able to remember 85% of words but now I can only remember 50%!" but he will pay attention to a sharp decline in WMS indices compared to other members of your age group. (The scores are scaled by age.)

I've linked to my boss's book here before. It goes into more theory and modeling than you're probably interested in, but it gives a good rundown of theories of memory and the experiments used to test those theories. (I don't benefit personally from recommending it.)
posted by supercres at 1:28 PM on October 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


You might find this face-name test interesting. You will be able to compare yourself to other people, but I'm not sure if there will be a way to retest over time.
posted by Dansaman at 1:43 PM on October 9, 2012


> What kind of memory do you want to test?

The kind that's used for tasks like "remember to send this paper in with this kid to school" and "make this important phone call" and "this is what I talked about so-and-so with when we had lunch last month" and "I bought these groceries to make this specific recipe." So some working, some episodic?

> If you really want diagnostic power, have yourself tested with a standardized exam, like the WMS

Oooh, that does sound good. Who gives that test? Would I go through my doctor or a psychologist or...?
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:26 PM on October 9, 2012


Yeah, sounds like you really need a standard test. You'll need to see a clinical psychologist (i.e., not a therapist; should have a Ph.D. or Psy.D.). Depending on your insurance, you may need a referral from your doctor. Takes about two hours. The test itself is a snapshot: gives your memory performance compared to your age-matched peers. You should talk about your desire to track any cognitive decline with the CP beforehand; he or she may want to give a different test, even though the WMS gives the broadest picture of your memory.

If you're interested in improving your memory performance, not just tracking any decline, see this comment I posted in a previous question. (The question itself may be useful as well, and the previouslier one I linked to.)
posted by supercres at 2:37 PM on October 9, 2012


The kind that's used for tasks like "remember to send this paper in with this kid to school" and "make this important phone call" and "this is what I talked about so-and-so with when we had lunch last month" and "I bought these groceries to make this specific recipe." So some working, some episodic?

The relevant search term for "Remember to send this paper in with this kid to school" and "make this important phone call" would be "prospective memory" (I have no idea how accurate the wikipedia section on testing prospective memory is).
posted by Jpfed at 10:34 PM on October 9, 2012


I happened to stumble upon something called SuperMemo today, might be of interest to you since it seems to be a memory building and testing tool.
posted by Dansaman at 10:49 AM on October 10, 2012


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