Baby Boomers, Memory and Memoir

If you are like me and most other baby boomers you obsess a lot about memory loss. Sometimes it simply gets frustrating, such as when trying to recall details from books or scenes from movies recently seen. All this frustration has lead me to organize a refresher course for myself on how memory works, with the hope that in understanding memory, I can improve my own. One thing I know for sure is that memory is fickle and unpredictable. We never know how much we will remember and when we will remember certain things and not others. It’s important to know that memory is deeply tied to concentration.

Basically, we only remember so much. We all have selective memories and typically we do not remember what is uninteresting or unimportant. Our emotional states have a distinct affect on our memories. According to a recent study at Penn State University Erie, the brain has an override system that ‘trashes’ information which it finds outdated. While learning new information, if new details are revealed, then the brain has the ability to filter through the details and retain only vital information. So… is that why my husband didn’t remember when I told him that the bulbs in my office fixture burnt out weeks ago?

No matter what your profession, a good memory is important, but if you are a memoirist it is critical. Studies have shown that there are certain things we can do to improve our memories. Getting exercise has been shown to help memory because an increase in circulation improves brain function by increasing blood flow to the brain. Some believe that vitamin supplements can improve memory. The following vitamins are supposedly crucial for memory: Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Folate/Folic Acid (800mg), Vitamin E, and Gingko Biloba.

If you are writing memoir, here are some specific tips:

–       play music from the time period you are writing about

–       prepare foods from the time period you’re writing about

–       prepare timelines

–       look at photographs

–       keep notebooks everywhere to jot down notes

Memory exercises and repetition is also important. For example, if you are introduced to someone for the first time, in order to remember their name, repeat it three times – when introduced, during the conversation and when you’re leaving.

Back to my reading about memory, before I forget to do so! It has also been said that reading out loud improves memory, as long as it doesn’t disturb others around us. This is because it engages many senses and can be particularly helpful if you are reading complex material.

Have a good week!

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5 Responses to “Baby Boomers, Memory and Memoir”


  1. 1 Irene Watson October 6, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Great article Diana. I so agree with you about taking supplements and Gingko Biloba certainly is one that improves memory. When I went back to university to get my Master’s I doubled the amount of Gingko during study time and I’m sure that’s what helped me attain my 4.0 average.

  2. 2 S.P. October 6, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    I’m infamous amongst my old friends for having the worst memory.
    I’m going to try and remember to buy some Ginko- I think I need to triple whatever amount Irene took!

    xx
    Slim P.

  3. 3 Kathy Rem October 7, 2009 at 10:43 am

    Diana,
    Oh boy, did I relate to this post! For me, I tend to remember the feeling more than the detail. I’ll remember how I felt about a movie before remembering what the movie was about. When writing memoir, I emerse myself in the feeling and then I’m able to recall the detail like a motion picture is playing. I literally close my eyes and type what I am seeing. From there it’s an editing excercise. But nothing beats the ongoing journal for real detail. I have been lucky in that I kept ALL my journals from junoir high on. I’ve gone back into them many times.

    Thanks for the article. It nice to be reminded I’m not alone in this crazy making part of my life!

  4. 4 Julie Jeffs October 23, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    Hi Diana,

    Saw your note on She Writes inviting us to visit your blog, I’m so glad I did. What a lovely blog.

    I am in the midst of my first draft of my memoir and I must admit I have fretted over memory. One, there are things from my childhood that I sometimes am not sure are real memories or just stories that I have told so many times they appear to be a memory of an actual event. Other memories I’m not sure I haven’t almost “made up” based upon the photos my father took throughout my childhood of me and my sisters. I finally was forced to really look at the memory issue when I wrote about an incident from my career, then found a news article about the incident and it was different than my memory. I had to do some research and contact an old co-worker to figure out that the newspaper got it wrong, and that my memory while not perfect was reasonably close to the facts.

    In my career in law enforcement, while working as a Sexual Assault/Child Abuse investigator memory was always an issue.

    Thanks for the pertinent post!


  1. 1 Baby Boomers U. S. (The Blog) » Blog Archive » This Weeks Good Reads-Week Seven Trackback on October 9, 2009 at 4:42 am

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Quote of the Week


"A writer uses a journal to try out the new step in front of the mirror."

~Mary Gordon

About Me


I am a memoirist, essayist, poet and teacher whose passion is keeping a notebook. My notebook is my muse and my alter ego. It contains personal snippets of my life and observations from the world around me. Diarist Anaïs Nin has been a great source of inspiration for me. My hobbies include writing, writing and more writing, but when I have extra time, I enjoy reading, walking, hiking, yoga, working out, cooking and hanging out with my family and Maltese Poodle, Spunky. In order not to become ensconced by the glare of my computer screen, I also teach in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and in various conferences and festivals around the country. My pleasure comes from sharing my joy of journaling with professional writers and anyone interested in writing.

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