Memory plays a role in our lives from beginning to end. Babies learn to recognize and remember faces and sounds; young children unconsciously memorize words and expressions from conversations around them. Students need a good memory to succeed in school, and every job requires a worker to remember tasks, procedures, and schedules. Having a good memory is part of speed reading training, because it ensures good comprehension and recall of the text you read, even as you increase your reading speed. Working to improve memory at any age is important, so that we don’t lose this crucial function just when we need it most. At Mark Beselt’s website, you can find information on what makes a good memory work, ways to help prevent memory loss, and explanations about some of the reasons people have memory problems.
7S: You provide clear and easy to understand information about memory, brain function, and health issues, as well as memory training techniques. What inspired you to set up this website?
MB: To answer the question in one word: stress…or, more accurately the impact stress had on my life. My second son was born with a very rare and very large arachnoid brain cyst (fluid filled sac not a solid mass or tumor). My wife and I spent most of the first six weeks in the local children’s hospital. When we were finally able to take him home after his brain surgery, he was on oxygen 24 hours a day and required tube feeding through his nose. The feeding actually took between 12 to 14 hours per day because we could not feed him too fast or he would vomit and we would have to start all over again.
Not only were we busy at home, but he was being followed by seven specialty clinics at the hospital, which meant visits at least two to three times per week for the first six months.
To say this time was stressful is an understatement. One of the things I noticed was how poor my memory became. I had always been a bit absent minded, but my memory became really bad. There were days when I couldn’t remember things that I knew or should know…like my own phone number or my postal code (ZIP code). My wife noticed that I was having the same conversation with her multiple times in the same day.
One of the concepts that came up in many of the discussions with my son’s neurologists and neurosurgeons was about brain plasticity. Essentially, the brain has the ability to adapt to being malformed. This concept really gave me hope that my son could be typical but it also got me thinking about the importance of brain training and brain and memory health in general. I would love to be able to build out my site at a faster pace in order to help more people, but with a young family, I do what I can, when I can.
For those who are interested…my son still has some challenges, but he has done far better than my wife and I and his doctors could have ever hoped or imagined.
7S: The memory problems people often experience with age can create difficulties in daily life. How soon should people start working on memory improvement to avoid these problems down the road?
MB: My personal view is that it is never too early to begin memory improvement training. If you learn how to keep your brain sharp early in life, all things being equal, it is easier to carry those gains in to your latter years. I have seen this effect in a close friend’s 95 year old grandmother. I have only known her for a few years, but her family tells me that she is as sharp as she was at 40 or 50. A big part of her secret has been keeping her brain active and challenged. She has done crossword and number puzzles daily and kept up on statistics for the Green Bay Packers football team for the past 40 years.
While I believe it is important to start early, I certainly do not want anyone to think they should give up if they are suffering some of the effects of age related memory loss. Research has shown that your brain is plastic or able to create new neuro-pathways at any age…it just needs to be stimulated and challenged on a regular basis.
7S: You say that it’s normal to have lapses of memory once in a while, but what can someone do if they think they’re having worse-than-normal memory problems?
MB: If you think you are having memory problems that are bad enough to affect your daily life, I would probably start with my family doctor. There are a number of conditions that can affect your memory which can be ruled out by simple tests. While your doctor is going to rule out the “long-shots”, he is likely going to focus on 4 basic life-style factors that affect memory. Those are sleep, diet, the amount of exercise you are getting and the amount of stress you are under. When my son’s health challenges were most acute, I failed at managing each of these factors. I did not sleep more than a couple of hours per night; I ate a horrible diet mostly potato chips and fast food; I did not exercise at all and I was under a horrendous amount of stress. As a consequence, my memory really suffered.
While my situation was an extreme example of the impact of health mismanagement over a relatively short period, people who fail to manage these lifestyle factors have often done so for years. The memory impact from prolonged mismanagement is often harder to see because it may be gradual. The good news is changing these lifestyle factors, will help your memory. Improvement may also be gradual, so persistence is necessary.
Whether you are dealing with the impact of lifestyle factors or a more serious health challenge, the fifth area you can work on is brain training. My research into brain plasticity indicates that by challenging your brain, you can see improvements in your memory and overall cognition as well as reflexes and muscle control.
7S: People are used to hearing the phrase “eat right and exercise” related to weight loss, not memory gain. Why is this good advice for memory improvement as well?
MB: I think people often forget (no pun intended) that our bodies function as a complex interdependent system. Eating more calories than we are burning will cause us to gain weight but the increase in insulin required to store excess calories as fat is hard on our brains. We also need to be sure we are eating foods that still have the nutrients intact. Most processed foods are devoid or low in nutrients and naturally occurring vitamins. Our bodies and brains need these nutrients and vitamins to function properly.
As you mentioned exercise is important because it releases a number of helpful hormones and neurotransmitters in addition to reducing the impact stress has on our brains. My research for my own life and my website has shown that we need to eat right and exercise but we also need to reduce our stress and get enough sleep.
7S: Can people get all the nutrition they need for a healthy brain through their daily diet?
MB: Yes, I think it is technically possible to get all the nutrition you need for a healthy brain from your diet but it is practically difficult…not impossible…just difficult. One of the main challenges is that people are very busy. The people who market food know this, so they sell food designed for convenience and shelf-life with nutrition being secondary. Our fruits and vegetables are not much better. Most of what we see in the grocery store are grown on factory farms and are sprayed with loads of synthetic pesticides, herbicides then packaged with fungicides. I even read that farmers are spraying growth hormones on crops to shorten growing seasons and increase crop yields.
The state of our food supply is part of the reason my wife and I made the decision to grow as much of our own food as we can and only buy organic fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy when possible. It takes work and costs a bit more but I have a good idea of what our kids are eating.
If you don’t have space for a garden and can’t afford organic, you can still get a lot of the vitamins and nutrients you need from high quality vitamins. I personally only take vitamins where the active ingredient is naturally occurring. You can get synthetic vitamins where they recreate the target vitamin in a lab, but there is research to suggest that they are not easily absorbed or as bioactive, so choose wisely.