Old People's Memories Not a Complete Lost Cause, Says UCLA Study

Who knew: The retirement-home set may not be biologically condemned to forgetting the names of their grandchildren, one by one, as life decays to death, after all!

A new study out of UCLA suggests that with a few simple brain exercises per day, and education on how to care for one's memory, seniors showed a renewed "ability to recognize and recall words, benefitting their verbal learning and retention."

The news drops at a suspiciously hot moment for memory study:

Working on one's physical fitness, as Fergie would say, is so 2000-and-late (as Fergie would also say). Memory exercises, on the other hand, are quite in right now.

Journalist turned memory champion turned non-fiction novelist Joshua Foer just dropped insta-hit Moonwalking With Einstein, an examination of humanity's collective loss of memory as we find more and more ways to store information externally.

Foer's conclusion: Use it or lose it.

The remembering techniques laid out in "Moonwalking" are more for ambitious young intellectuals -- encouraging them to create "memory palaces" in the brain by envisioning familiar houses/locations, then place long lists of words or numbers throughout the palace by turning them into visuals, which are "stickier." (OK, just read the book.)

But UCLA scientists Karen Miller and Gary Small's senior memory experiment was carried out in the same spirit, with the same ideals.

"The study demonstrates that it's never too late to learn new skills to enhance one's life," says Miller in today's UCLA presser. (Aw.) It was conducted on 115 seniors -- mostly educated white women with an average age of 81 -- at two retirement homes in Maryland. Here's what the V.I.P. lab mice were subjected to:

Miller and Small developed a scripted curriculum for trainers who led the classes, and they provided a companion workbook for participants. ...

The one-hour education sessions focused on memory enhancement. They included explanations of how memory works; offered quick strategies for remembering names, faces and numbers; and provided basic memory tools such as linking ideas and creating visual images. Trainers also discussed the role of a healthy lifestyle in protecting and maintaining memory.

Now if only we could remember to do the exercise thingies, instead of corroding our collective brain on the evil Internets, we'd all be thinking fly in no time.

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]


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