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Fear you're losing your marbles? Try these memory tricks

  • Story Highlights
  • Moving eyes back and forth horizontally for 30 seconds can help retain words
  • Meditating beforehand can help you stay focused in meetings
  • Shaking up your routine stimulates nerve cell growth in the brain
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By Lisa Mulcahy
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Health

You can't find your glasses (they're on your head), you forgot the morning staff meeting (it was an hour ago), and the kids are safely at school (but their lunches are still on the kitchen counter). Oh well, when you're crazy-busy, exhausted, or valiantly multitasking from morning till night, something's gotta give -- and it's usually your memory. Not to worry: A little memory loss is perfectly normal once you hit middle age, says Martha Weinman Lear, author of the forthcoming book "Where Did I Leave My Glasses? The What, When, and Why of Normal Memory Loss." But, guess what? You don't have to put up with it. Our 10 memory-boosting tricks will have you remembering where you parked the car in no time.

Keep track of your to-do's.

The trick: Play a mind game.

art.parking.lot.getty.jpg

Just before leaving the garage or lot, taking a final glance backward can help you remember where you parked.

When you plan your day, tie everything together through creative visualization, sort of like telling yourself a story that draws from your appointments and errands. It may sound hokey, but it works, says Scott Hagwood, a memory contest champ and author of "Memory Power: You Can Develop a Great Memory -- America's Grand Master Shows You How." "Say you have to remember to buy milk and also take your son to the dentist. You can link those tasks together by imagining your son drinking a glass of milk, and seeing the milk wash over his teeth, depositing calcium," Hagwood says.

Ace a presentation.

The trick: Stop and smell the roses.

In a recent German study, some students sniffed a rose scent as they matched pairs of cards and then were exposed to the scent again as they slept; other students didn't get to sniff anything. When they woke up, the rose-sniffers were better at recalling the cards they had matched. To sharpen your own wits, try spraying a favorite fragrance on your sheets the night before you give that big presentation.

Remember names.

The trick: Exercise your eyes.

Before you walk into your next cocktail party, move your eyes back and forth horizontally for 30 seconds. Yeah, you might look weird, but British researchers say the exercise can help you retain words (including names) you're about to hear. The horizontal movement makes the brain's hemispheres interact, and that's important in memory retrieval, the experts say.Health.com: Foods that can help you remember

Absorb critical info.

The trick: Breathe deeply.

Have a boss who likes to give pop quizzes after he talks for two hours? Keep your mind focused during meetings by meditating beforehand. Studies show it's a great way to boost your attention span -- and "attention is the main door to memory," says Sonia Lupien, Ph.D., director of the Center for Studies on Human Stress at the Douglas Institute in Montreal, Canada. Never meditated before? Sit or lie on the floor in a quiet room in a comfortable position, rest both hands on your stomach, and breathe deeply, focusing on the silence. Try to meditate for at least 10 minutes daily.

Multitask gracefully

The trick: Learn a new language.

"Stretch your mind, and you can create new pathways in the brain," says Margie Lachman, Ph.D., professor and chair of psychology at Brandeis University, and director of the Lifespan Developmental Psychology Laboratory. The new pathways can help you stay on top of everything you've already got simmering. One way to stretch: Dip into a foreign language. There's no need to get fluent; just drill vocab with an instructional CD in the car. Other ideas: Try a new hobby like cooking or dancing. Health.com: New computer games to help boost memory.

Master a new workout move.

The trick: Hit snooze.

Get a good night's sleep, and you'll be better prepared to kick butt in any situation that requires your memory to guide your body. Research from Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center shows that the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls speed and accuracy, is especially active after a full slumber session.

Find your parked car.

The trick: Take a good look.

Think parking garages and mall lots were designed to torture you? You won't forget where you parked for the fourth time this week if you look back at your ride as you walk away, Hagwood suggests. Just before you leave the garage or lot, take a final glance backward.

Deliver the punch line.

The trick: Vary your routine.

Forget the punch line every time you tell a joke? Shake up your routines, Lachman says. Try brushing your teeth with the other hand, or take a new route to work. This stimulates nerve cell growth in the brain, something your noggin probably needs if you're still telling knock-knock jokes.

Avoid senior moments.

The trick: Get moving.

You just forgot why you walked into the laundry room? A new study from Columbia University shows that exercise encourages neuron growth in a region of the brain that's associated with normal, age-related memory loss. Researchers haven't figured out what form of exercise best fits the bill yet, but right now they believe any aerobic workout or an intensive strength-training regimen is great. Both get oxygen flowing to the brain, Lachman says. For starters, she recommends walking briskly for 30 minutes at least three times a week, if your doctor approves. Health.com: Is it Alzheimer's? Probably not

Power through a grocery run.

The trick: Play mah-jongg.

Where's that mango chutney hiding -- the one you picked up last month? If you want to remember things more quickly, grab a few friends and start a mah-jongg night. It's not just for elderly ladies. It's a pretty complicated game of skill in which players visually match tiles as quickly as possible. Mastering the game may help you rapidly commit locations to memory. You can play solo, too. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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Copyright Health Magazine 2009

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