I need a better memory
March 1, 2008 5:00 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to design a regimen that would improve my memory and ability to concentrate significantly. Does anyone have any experience with this?

I am 26 and in reasonable health, meaning I do not work out but I have a good diet. I have always had a bad memory, and I am fairly certain I have ADD. I have been to a psychiatrist who prescribed me Wellbutrin, then Adderall with no effect. He also said that only children can be diagnosed with ADD and that I have a Depressive Disorder. I no longer see him. I have had some success with The Memory Book, but I am going to have to re-read it because I have forgotten some of the techniques. I havn't read it in some years. Any recommendations for books, pills or surgical procedures are welcome.
posted by Brandon1600 to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
On of the feature articles in the new issue of Reader's Digest is about memory improvement tips. I just happened to see it while standing in line at the grocery store this morning, so I can't vouch for its value as I didn't read it; however, it might be worth picking up.
posted by necessitas at 5:07 PM on March 1, 2008

In the book Delivered from Distraction there is mention of this mind-exercise program called Brain Gym. The author says his own son who has ADD had tried the program and afterward there was significant improvement in his school work and reading comprehension.

I haven't tried it myself but I've been meaning to look into it.
posted by zippity at 5:16 PM on March 1, 2008

If you're going all the way to look into surgical procedures, I would have to suggest getting another doctor and seeing if he or she has anything better to say to you than this doctor did. I used to be in a realtionship with someone with untreated ADD and trying to work on your memory and concentration is an admirable goal, but it would be like teaching someone how to train for a marathon who had poorly fitting shoes. You may be doing a lot of extra effort to do something that the right combination of doctor + possibly meds + possibly therapy could do for you. ADD is not only diagnosed in adults and often "co-presents" with depressive disorders or OCD or a number of other things. Unless you aretotally certain that you don't want to go to doctor route for looking at possible ADD, I'd keep that in your toolkit of things you try.

That said, for a lot of people memory is about exercising it and encouraging your mind to make connections. You might find Wikipedia's article about memory to be interesting because it talks a lot about different models of how we think about memory which could give you ideas how to flex or strengthen your own memory. As far as concentration goes, you'll have to think about what your impediments to concentration are. The guy i used to be with, he could hyperfocus on certain things (this was sort of a hallmark of ADD as opposed to someone who was just totally inattentive) but not necessarily the things he was supposed to focus on. A trck for him, to help keep his mind from distracting him while he was trying to work, was to keep a "to do" list handy at all times and so whenever he was interrupted with a good idea of something else he wanted to do, he'd write it down, not run off to do it. Other people swear by keeping a full pitcher of water by them with the assumption that when you get up to go to the pathroom (and you will) it will give your mind a second to sort of refresh and you can look at your task anew when you fgo back to it.

Cal poly has a good list of memory tips they give to their students which you can print out and keep with you. It's geared towards studying in school. You may need to think abotu what you'd like a better memory FOR while you decide how to approach this. For me, I try hard to remember people's names and do some visualization tricks with something about their features and something about their name to try to link the two better in my brain.

If you're book inclined there are many memory workout books. I don't know much about any of them as compared to any others. I would recommend reading Driven to Distraction. It's about ADD but it has a sort of positive outlook on the whole thing and you can sort of flip through it and see if you say "oh hey that sounds like me!" or if it doesn't seem like you at all. In any case, best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 5:25 PM on March 1, 2008 [4 favorites]

I just read this article on focus and concentration. I favorited it with plans to give it a try.
posted by iguanapolitico at 5:38 PM on March 1, 2008

Best answer: I would recommend this book by Ernest Wood. Used copies are pretty cheap and it has some good exercises in it.
(Ultimately the book does discuss meditation but the first half is all about concentration.)
posted by wittgenstein at 7:42 PM on March 1, 2008

Best answer: Try to find the book "concentration" by Mouni Sadhu. But be careful - he warns that the exercises can induce altered states of consciousness that might not be "healthy". I never got that far; perhaps these "altered states" could be delusional, but the early exercises talk about being more aware of things.

Also, learn sign language. (ASL, or in my case Auslan). When reading back someone who is signing, it helps with concentrating in a different mode (visual) to what you're used to.

Learning to stimulate different senses appears to help. Sample some different colognes or perfumes, and try to remember the scent. Move on to another scent, and try to contrast them in your mind. I did this in Paris a few years ago, and found it a great way to not only learn about different scents, but to increase my olfactory vocabulary.

Of course, this all worked for me, might not work for you...
posted by flutable at 8:27 PM on March 1, 2008

Are you looking to improve long-term hold-on-to-things-throughout-the-day/week/month memory, or short-term juggling-many-things memory? There are different exercises for each goal.

This is an exercise for long-term memory that I enjoy:
In the morning, write down three things in a journal or on a piece of paper. Each thing should be in a different category, so you might write down 'blue triangle cat' if your categories were colors, shapes, and animals. Do this as early as you can, preferably before you have any food or coffee. Don't make a big deal out of it and don't pick your items in advance. Try to move on to the next part of your day and 'let go' of the items as soon as you've picked them; the exercise is most effective when you let it become a mundane part of your morning ritual, like letting out the dog or brushing your teeth. Go about your day as usual, and don't think about the exercise at all. When you're going to bed at night, try to recall the items you picked that morning. Change one of your categories every week, so one week you could do {a videogame, an insect, a computer cable type}, and then next week you'd do {an insect, a computer cable type, a friend from highschool}. At the end of every week, try to recall every category you've done so far that month (using a journal helps you check your answers for this part). You can extend the exercise by adding more categories if three items a day is too easy; you can also change more categories every week if that aspect isn't challenging enough.

For short-term concentration and item-juggling, the best exercise I know is mental math. You don't have to do anything more complicated than the four basic arithmetic operations (+-*/) to get a good workout. Inner math details a solid visual method for mental algebra, and the speed math trainer gives you basic +-*/ practice. Ignore the speed aspect and concentrate on correctness, the exercise isn't working for you if you're on-edge about timing. Relax and turn off the timer and meter. When you get bored of those basic problems, find a set of algebra problems that are at a comfortable difficulty and do a problem every hour (google and del.icio.us are your friends here, don't bother buying a book). Do a problem every time you go to the bathroom, smoke a cigarette, or get up from your desk. Keep things interesting and increase the complexity of your problems when they get boring. Many people think math is drudgery, but these kind of simple algebra problems can be fun if you think of them as puzzles. Best of all, your math skills will be seen as a godlike superpower the next time you're out with friends and trying to figure out how much to tip.
posted by tylermoody at 9:04 PM on March 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

There's a memory system which maps the integers less than 10 and the phonetics of the alphabet like so:

0: th, z
1: d,t
2: n
3: m
4: r
5: l
6: sh, ch
7: k
8: f
9: p,b

So, if you were trying to remember your locker combination of 30,26,18 you would remember: m-z,n-[sh,ch],[d,t]-f and fill in vowels as you saw fit. Like maze-nosh-duff. Mental picture: you're lost in a maze and you nosh some duff to survive. Sexual and elimination phrases are easier to remember.
posted by telstar at 9:48 PM on March 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Have a DS? There's always Brain Age. Its efficacy is unproven but considering the applicability of the exercises (simple math, figuring out dates, counting change, reading music, listening to words spoken simultaneously - these are from Brain Age 2) I would suggest that even if they fail to make you a super-genius, they'll at least help in those specific realms.
posted by reebear at 9:52 PM on March 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

For concentration, I suggest meditation. It's a more long term solution as you won't see results over night; but over time you will see your ability to focus strengthen significantly. It will also make the push and pull of your thoughts a little less intense.
posted by milarepa at 2:38 AM on March 2, 2008

Best answer: Yeah, that doctor sucks. ADD can totally and easily be diagnosed in anyone who has it, child or adult. There's a very specific test that measures impulse control. I never had to take it, it would kind of be like testing if whales are big.

The difference between someone with ADD who is not properly medicated and someone who is properly medicated (and, at least initially, is engaging in other activities like therapy or counseling, which are generally helpful in adjusting to the meds) is pretty awesome. Basically, you transform from someone who is always forgetful to someone is merely sometimes forgetful. You also find yourself doing the things you are supposed to be doing with ease rather than with extreme difficulty, and suddenly a lot of interactions with others make a hell of a lot more sense.

If you do have ADD, you should be properly diagnosed. End of story.

Until you get helpful medications, one thing you can try, with limited effect, is high-strength coffee like espresso. It's what I tried for a while as a teenager before being put on Ritalin.

Best of luck. Trust me, once you've taken care of your ADD the rest of your life will practically start taking care of itself.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:58 PM on March 2, 2008

Also, some day I'm going to post an AskMe about how to remember things if you can't visualize. Every single book and article I've read on the subject of memory says, "Picture a..." well, sorry. I can't picture things. I also find it easier to remember numbers than I do names. Weird, huh?
posted by Deathalicious at 1:01 PM on March 2, 2008

Response by poster: I just want to thank everyone for their input. Keep 'em coming.
posted by Brandon1600 at 1:35 PM on March 2, 2008

Check out what kind of memory problems you experience most. (For example, I remember number patterns and words very well. However, I have terrible problems with certain time periods and events, like: in no way can I remember what I had for dinner yesterday. Some people remember the movie but not the title; I remember the title but not the movie.) When you notice what frequently slips your mind, you can pinpoint what you need to improve -- AND then you can start relying more on the parts of your memory that do work pretty well.
posted by oldtimey at 8:12 PM on March 2, 2008

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