Leading a more memorable life may help enhance memory potential, especially for people suffering age-related memory loss, new studies show.
Researchers at the Memory Disorders Clinic at the University of California, Irvine, have found in a preliminary study of patients with problem memories that teaching them to replace monotonous daily routines with exciting activities can dramatically improve recall.
People who participate in the program are encouraged to do whatever amounts to something out of the ordinary, be it going on picnics or buying tires at a different store.
"We call this the significant event technique," said clinic co-director Curt Sandman, who believes that the technique can help upwards of 20% of all age-related memory loss problems.
The technique is an outgrowth of research by UC Irvine psychobiologists who theorize that exciting events trigger a flood of neurochemicals in the brain that in turn aid in the recall of those events.
"Memory loss may get worse with age because people give up an active life, stirring up neurochemicals less and less," Sandman theorized. "My assumption is that something dynamic is happening to people when they are experiencing a significant event, something biochemical.
"All of us old enough to remember know what we were doing the day John Kennedy was assassinated. For people my age," the 46-year-old Sandman said, "that day is crystallized in our memories.
"We can remember not only that the event occurred with clarity but recall with detail many of the things that we did that day."
Significant events do not have to be national tragedies or catastrophes, the psychobiologist explained, but simple changes in daily routine.
Unusual Events for Them
"We applied this to patients with memory loss and with early Alzheimer's patients who had reached retirement age and who had begun to deteriorate mentally.
"We had them set up significant events with their spouses and we stressed that it had to be something unusual for them," he said.
One of the couples participating in the study bought five exotic fruits they had never before tried and organized a picnic around them, spending several hours at the event and taking special mental note of the new tastes.
"The recall of that day was so dramatic that the non-affected spouse just sat there in amazement listening to all of the things that were being recalled," Sandman said.
In the study of 13 couples, 10 displayed marked improvement by incorporating significant events into their lives.
Sandman is also studying how long the memory enhancement period lasts because he would like to determine "the size of the memory window created by significant events."
He envisions "building bridges" between those windows to make people with memory loss more functional.