Dr. Steve Mason

“We make some of our greatest gains when we see old things in new ways.”

Contact Dr. Mason by email at


Last week, I planned to attend a lecture on Memory. Unfortunately, the speaker forgot about it. At first I thought it must be a joke but it wasn’t. Which just goes to show that people can forget. Even worse people can sometimes misremember. A friend will recall some experience you shared years ago and try to remind you only they don’t remember it the way you remember it. So who’s right? Don’t be so sure.

Philosophers have been talking about memory for ages saying things like: The weakest ink is better than the strongest memory. And that’s true but it wasn’t until the past few decades that technology made it possible for scientists to study a living brain. One conclusion is that memories are far more error prone than you might think. An eyewitness can be very honest and very convincing…and very wrong. That’s why police officers say two people will give you three stories.

There’s also the problem of memories fading with time which makes it difficult to decide between normal forgetfulness and a disease process. So here’s a quick test: Draw a clock face showing ten minutes to four. Any problem with that? Here’s one for the Tip of the Tongue phenomenon: What falls from oak trees that squires gather?  If it takes a few seconds to come up with Acorns, that’s fine but if you get Sweaters, that may suggest some concern.

Can you improve your memory with certain vitamins and supplements? There are a bunch on the market and it would be nice to simply pop a pill but it’s not that simple. What you can do is try your best to focus when you need to remember. You can also get information into different areas of your brain by saying it, writing it, looking at it and don’t forget the string around your finger. Also, while a little exercise will increase blood flow to the brain even a seemingly slight knock on the head can do far more damage than you might suspect.

A good night’s sleep is important to a good memory. It seems we sort through the events of the day as we dream and select some for storage in long term memory. However, how quickly you can later recall whatever you stored will vary with age. As a general rule, the older you get the longer it takes. I know I have a hard time beating the contestants on JEOPARDY but I usually get the final. It’s because they allow 30 seconds to think about it.

Look At It This Way

Your brain consumes approximately 20% of all the energy your body produces. This makes it a very expensive organ to maintain so it must serve a vital function. And if you think about it, would you even be YOU if all your memories suddenly vanished? Clearly you want to do all you can to create a healthy body that will support a healthy brain. One final thought never stop learning. Younger brains can work faster but older brains can store more information. If you can’t think as much, maybe you can think better.

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