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How To Remember Names & Fend Off Dementia

by Ninah Kessler

Good News: some computer games can slow and even reverse age related mental decline, mild brain damage and mild dementia.

There are many reasons for cognitive decline. According to Dr Robert Werman (Living with an Aging Brain) we start losing brain cells around age 20, and if we make it to 70 will have lost half a billion brain cells. The longer we live the more brain cells we lose. Even though only 1/3 of us will have dementia by the time we are 85, we will all have lost some proper nouns, find it more difficult to multi-task and take longer to learn new information. And we are likely to forget names.

1/3 of us will have dementia by the time we are 85!

Of course, we could also (G-d forbid) have a traumatic brain injury, and we could lose a lot of neurons very quickly.

That is the bad news, and we can all be like a client of mine who called everyone “Honey” or like Jerry Seinfeld who forgot his girlfriend’s name (it rhymes with a female sexual organ.) The good news is that there are things can do to improve our memory including remembering names.

Shankar Vedantam had an excellent article about how mental workouts can slow mental decline (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/19/AR2006121901431.html?referrer=emailarticle)

And at Spark of Genius we have lots of computer games that can slow and even reverse age related mental decline, mild brain damage and mild dementia.

But let’s talk about my favorite, remembering names, my biggest challenge, because I was too shy to do it when I was younger. It reminds me of the joke about the guy who broke his hand and asked the hand surgeon, “Doctor, after you work on me, will I ever be able to play the piano again?” After the doctor reassures him, he says, “That’s great, because I never could play before.”

If there is no good reason to remember someone’s name, make one up.

The first thing to do is to pay attention when you are introduced. There are many cases where we forget names because we never really absorbed them in the first place, and what you don’t learn, you can’t remember. Also, the more you care about the person, the more you are likely to remember the name. To a point, emotional involvement helps the memory. (When we are in a traumatic situation, emotions actually impair memory.) You are more likely to remember your travel agent’s name because that agent helps to get you the good trips.

If there is no good reason to remember someone’s name, make one up. I like clothes and jewelry, so if I am introduced to someone with a beautiful purple scarf with gold sparkly things, I can remember Henrietta with the scarf.

The more senses you can use (to remember) the better.

It also helps to ask the person how their name is spelled. This works very well for unusual names or for common names that could be spelled in various ways. (Is it Cathy with a C or Kathy with a K?) Then see the name spelled out. You are using two senses here – you are hearing the name and then seeing the name. The more senses you can use the better. If you could write the name on the floor and walk over it, that would help too, but it’s better not to do this in most social situations. This is why dyslexic children trace letters with their fingers or cut them out – they are using more modalities.

I always like to use the name three times in the first conversation. Repetition helps.

Then you want to make an association between the name and something else. For example, if a person’s last name is “Steinberg” see a big stein of beer coming out of an ice berg. Having the images superimposed on each other, dancing with each other or even crashing into each other helps you to remember them.

One final note of caution – I learned all this because names were challenging for me and I’m much better than I was. But if you ever meet me and I forget your name, please forgive me.

Be well!

-Ninah Kessler


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