Book Review: The Complete Guide to Memory by Richard Restak M.D.

This is a badly needed book for me personally. At 70, I have memory issues, mainly forgetting someone’s name or being unable to remember the correct term or word. I fear dementia as I get older after seeing what my mother experienced before she died. I was looking for exercises and insights into improving my memory and this book provides it. Excellent tips on exercise, diet, and naps to improve your cognitive skills.

My notes from the book:

Pictures are easier to commit to memory than words. This is based on the fact that the brain wasn’t designed for reading words; reading doesn’t come naturally. We have to be taught how to read, while we require no instruction to form mental images of the objects and people around us.

We now know that memory depends on associations rather than single words. Each word has to be put in context and associated with other words or phrases in order to form a memory for later retrieval. So your best chance of remembering is to enlist the brain’s powers of association.

Another highly effective technique for improving your memory is to keep retesting yourself on the material you want to remember. Even after you have learned something, your long-term memory for it will be strengthened if you repeatedly challenge yourself to recall it again and again.

Based on the older adult risk factor, I advise all of my patients to abstain completely from alcohol at age seventy at the latest. By sixty-five years of age or older, people possess fewer neurons than they did only a few years earlier. So it makes sense to eliminate alcohol at a time in life when it’s necessary to conserve as many neurons as possible.

Fiction, on the other hand, requires the reader to proceed from beginning to end while retaining in working memory the various characters and plot developments.

Incidentally, I have noticed over my years as a neurologist and neuropsychiatrist that people with early dementia, as one of the first signs of the encroaching illness, often stop reading fiction.

For some reason, our brain is better at recalling losses and failings rather than positive experiences.

Naps too exert a positive influence on memory. Naps lasting anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour and a half have been shown to increase later recall for information encoded prior to the nap.

The key to successful napping is waking up more empowered than you felt before the nap.

Dark chocolate enhances episodic memory.

This serves as another reminder that anything that gets one up and about and focuses attention, however briefly, will prove beneficial. At the deepest level, physical activity of any sort promotes synaptic and cognitive resilience.