Spending time with friends and loved ones is an important factor in brain health in general and memory specifically, Dr Merrill says. “Our brains are wired for human connection and a big part of that is making memories together,” he says. Having a rich social life not only reduces stress but is a great way to make sure you have lots of opportunities to rehearse and relive the memories you’re forming, and thus improve your memory, he says. If you read a novel on your own, you might not remember all the details in it, but if you discuss it with your book group, you’ll have chances to describe what really moved you and you’ll be reminded of secondary characters that your friends found memorable.
Use smartphones wisely
“Smartphones can be a fantastic way to support our memory,” Loveday says. She suggests using alarms and reminders as a way to free up mental space: “If you are continually thinking, ‘I mustn’t forget to pick my son up at 4pm,’ then you’re not able to focus on what you’re doing.” Be careful when it comes to using your camera phone, though. People who take lots of photographs are so focused on the visual aspects of their experience that they don’t remember key information they heard and may be less able to remember the experience as a whole, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition. It is such a common experience they even gave it a name: “The photo-taking impairment effect.” So if you want to treasure the memory of your child’s first birthday for years to come, use your phone to keep track of the guest list, take a few snaps, and then put it aside and just focus on enjoying the party.
Don’t totally outsource your memory to Google
Depending on phones and computers to remember things for us is called cognitive offloading and while this can be useful in many cases (trusting your phone to get you to a store you’ve never visited or to remember all your friends’ phone numbers), the feeling that we can just look something up makes us less likely to expend the little effort required to remember what we just read, Dr Merrill says. Loveday, however, says we still come out ahead: “In many ways, having access to the Internet means that we are able to learn more faster,” she says. “While the Internet may mean that we use our memories slightly differently, there is no evidence that it has a negative effect on our ability to learn and remember.”