Return to opening page
.

Memory and Memory Loss

In my youth I was concerned about memory enhancement – now my concern is about memory loss. In my quest for practical guidance I found these articles useful.

Memory Loss With Aging: What's Normal, What's Not
The Statin Solution to avoid memory loss
Cure for memory loss comes in a can
The Masters of Memory


Memory Loss With Aging: What's Normal, What's Not

How does the brain store information?
Information is stored in different parts of your memory. Information stored in the short-term memory may include the name of a person you met moments ago. Information stored in the recent memory may include what you ate for breakfast.

Information stored in the remote memory includes things that you stored in your memory years ago, such as memories of childhood.

How does aging change the brain?
Beginning when you're in your 20s, you begin to lose brain cells a few at a time. Your body also starts to make less of the chemicals your brain cells need to work. The older you are, the more these changes can affect your memory.

Aging may affect memory by changing the way your brain stores information and by making it harder to recall stored information.

Your short-term and remote memories aren't usually affected by aging. But your recent memory may be affected. You may forget names of people you've met recently. These are normal changes.

Things to help you remember

• Keep lists.
• Follow a routine.
• Make associations (connect things in your mind), such as using landmarks to help you find places.

• Keep a detailed calendar.

• Put important items, such as your keys, in the same place every time.

• Repeat names when you meet new people.

• Do things that keep your mind and body busy.

• Run through the ABC's in your head to help you think of words you're having trouble remembering. "Hearing" the first letter of a word may jog your memory.

What about when I know a word but can't recall it?
This is usually just a glitch in your memory. You'll almost always remember the word with time. This may become more common as you age. It can be very frustrating, but it's not usually serious.

What are some other causes of memory problems?
Many things other than aging can cause memory problems. These include depression, other illnesses, dementia (severe problems with memory and thinking, such as Alzheimer's disease), side effects of drugs, strokes, a head injury and alcoholism.

How can I tell if my memory problems are serious?
A memory problem is serious when it affects your daily living. If you sometimes forget names, you're probably okay. But you may have a more serious problem if you have trouble remembering how to do things you've done many times before, getting to a place you've been to often, or doing things that use steps, like following a recipe.

Another difference between normal memory problems and dementia is that normal memory loss doesn't get much worse over time. Dementia gets much worse over several months to several years.

It may be hard to figure out on your own if you have a serious problem. Talk to your family doctor about any concerns you have. Your doctor may be able to help you if your memory problems are caused by a medicine you're taking or by depression.

How does Alzheimer's disease change memory?
Alzheimer's disease starts by changing the recent memory. At first, a person with Alzheimer's disease will remember even small details of his or her distant past but not be able to remember recent events or conversations. Over time, the disease affects all parts of the memory.

Memory problems that aren't part of normal aging

- Forgetting things much more often than you used to
- Forgetting how to do things you've done many times before
- Trouble learning new things
- Repeating phrases or stories in the same conversation
- Trouble making choices or handling money
- Not being able to keep track of what happens each day

top


The Statin Solution
    
Lowering cholesterol with statin medications may be as good for the brain as for the heart.
 by Daniel Pendick
 
Chances are that you think of cholesterol as something you could use a whole let less of. Soft, waxy particles of the stuff circulate in the blood, with one version (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) ferrying cholesterol to where it’s needed and another (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) mopping up excess cholesterol. The constant barrage of bad press about high cholesterol has transformed it into a veritable cardiac spawn of Satan, worthy only of aggressive exorcism from the body.

Cholesterol doesn’t entirely deserve its bad reputation. It is essential to the physical integrity and proper functioning of body cells, and is raw material for producing hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. But to be sure, having too much LDL cholesterol in your system increases the risk for heart attacks. Excess LDL accumulates on artery walls as fatty deposits, or plaques. A clot released into the bloodstream from a ruptured plaque can block a coronary artery and cause a heart attack. To prevent that, millions of people are now taking one of the “statin” drugs, which lower the amount of LDL in the blood. These include the top sellers Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Zocor (simvastatin) as well as three others.

In recent years, Alzheimer’s researchers have also turned their attention to cholesterol. They have found intriguing suggestions that high cholesterol raises the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease—and that treatment with statins may lower that risk. No one can say whether statins will prove safe and effective for treating or preventing Alzheimer’s, but the research is solid enough to justify two large and expensive clinical trials now underway.

Cholesterol on the Brain
Fatty plaques in the arteries (atherosclerosis) causes heart disease. The culprits in Alzheimer’s disease are clumps of a sticky protein, beta-amyloid. All people with Alzheimer’s have these plaques in their brains. In the 1980s, D. Larry Sparks, Ph.D., was the first to find a link between coronary and Alzheimer’s disease. “I’ve been accused of pioneering the field,” says Sparks, now chief of the Roberts Laboratory for Neurodegenerative Disease Research at the Sun Health Research Institute in Sun City, Arizona.

Sparks noticed that older people with coronary artery disease also had amyloid plaques in their brains. This was an unexpected finding, to say the least. “These amyloid plaques were supposed to only show up in brains of people with Alzheimer’s,” Sparks says. “It was heresy.”
 
The common link, Sparks believed, was high cholesterol. Everyone agreed that high cholesterol formed artery-choking plaques. Did excess cholesterol in the brain also fuel production of beta-amyloid plaques and lead to Alzheimer’s disease? Sparks proposed that it did, reasoning that the people with plaques in their arteries and their brains were dying of heart disease before they could develop full-blown symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Subsequent research offered some support for Sparks’s idea. For instance, feeding lots of cholesterol to lab animals increases production of beta-amyloid in the brain. It stood to reason, then, that lowering cholesterol would have the opposite effect: the brain should produce less beta-amyloid. Again, studies with lab animals and cultured brain tissue bore this out.

Epidemiology—the study of patterns of disease in populations—also turned up some tantalizing clues. Research found that people with high cholesterol in midlife are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease later. And some studies suggest that people who take statins to prevent heart disease may be less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life. Other research found no such benefit.
 
The Statin Solution
 So the evidence is a bit mixed and murky at the moment. The important question raised by these studies is this: Does lowering cholesterol with statin drugs combat Alzheimer’s disease? And if it does, how does it work?

 Right now, the tentative explanation goes something like this: Brain cells make their own cholesterol. Excess cholesterol in brain cells boosts the conversion of amyloid precursor protein (APP) to both alpha- and beta-amyloid protein. Alpha- and beta-amyloid are very similar, but different in that beta-amyloid forms the toxic plaques implicated in Alzheimer’s disease and alpha-amyloid does not. Sparks says that excess cholesterol in the brain may shift the balance from alpha- to beta-amyloid. The result is relatively more beta-amyloid than alpha, and thus more plaques.

Reducing the level of cholesterol in the brain, then, would squelch production of beta-amyloid. That could delay the age at which healthy people first develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and also slow the mental decline in people already diagnosed. Assuming this all proves to be true, doctors would immediately have a new drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease—a drug already in wide use whose side effects are well understood.

Statins on Trial
 Researchers are now probing the neurochemical connections between brain cholesterol and beta-amyloid. In the meantime, Sparks and others have launched clinical trials to find evidence that statins actually help people with Alzheimer’s. Sparks published the results of his pilot study in the May 2005 Archives of Neurology.

Sparks and his colleagues recruited 63 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. Half of them were chosen at random to take 80 mg per day of Lipitor—a relatively high dose that would draw down LDL cholesterol rapidly. The other half took an inactive placebo pill. The people in the study were given a battery of tests every three months for one year to track any changes in their mental status. After 6 months, the people taking statins showed less mental decline. Sparks notes that the improvements emerged only after the statins had begun to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood.

The results of Sparks’s pilot study were strong enough to warrant a larger study, but not to warrant prescribing statins to all Alzheimer’s patients right now. “It’s a proof of concept for the general approach that reducing cholesterol has an impact,” explains Zaven Khachaturian, Ph.D., former director of the Office of Alzheimer’s Research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and now an independent consultant on Alzheimer's research with KAI, Inc. in Maryland. “It reinforces the idea that the statin is doing something.” Sparks concurs: “It’s an evolving story. There’s something there. We don’t exactly know what the mechanism is, but there’s something there.”

The larger trials may provide a better answer. The one in which Sparks is participating is funded by Institute for the Study on Aging and Pfizer, Inc., which manufactures and sells Lipitor. The study will involve 600 people who are already taking Pfizer’s Alzheimer’s drug Aricept (donepezil). The idea is to find out if Lipitor and Aricept together slow progression of the disease more so than Aricept alone. The other new trial, funded by the NIH and involving 450 Alzheimer’s patients taking Aricept, will try to determine if the statin drug Zocor slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Pfizer will supply the Aricept for the study.

Back To Basics
Even if the latest trials show a benefit to Alzheimer’s patients, statin manufacturers would still have to run the gauntlet at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to get approval to market statins to treat dementia. That process could take years, many millions of dollars, and perhaps additional studies. Even if approved as an Alzheimer’s treatment, statins would at best slow the progression of the disease. But to individuals and families, that modest benefit would still offer hope in a situation with an otherwise grim outlook. “We could basically extend the quality of their lives a couple of years,” Sparks says.

In the meantime, a successful clinical trial could boost funding for research on the as-yet unclear and unproven connection between cholesterol and dementia. This, says Khachaturian, could prove valuable in other ways. “If it’s shown to be positive, it would really stimulate research and might also attract people from other fields,” such as experts in cholesterol chemistry. “That will make the process go faster.”

Basic research could also reveal a better way to exploit the connection between cholesterol and Alzheimer’s, one more effective than statins. “We’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of this,” Khachaturian says. “The important news here is that studies like Larry Sparks’s are really beginning to point to this line of research as a place we should mine a bit more.”
top



Taken from Scotland on Sunday 2006-01-15
Cure for memory loss comes in a can

Sugary drinks can boost your ability to memorise facts by up to a fifth, according to groundbreaking research by a team of Scottish scientists. Just one bottle or can of a sugar-laden soft drink has a significant effect on the brain's ability to store and retrieve memories, psychologists from Glasgow Caledonian University discovered.

They say anyone facing an exam, speech or any event where the ability to retrieve information accurately and rapidly is important is likely to perform better if they have a sugary drink beforehand. And, in an age of low-sugar or artificially sweetened drinks, they suggest that too many low-calorie beverages could hamper mental performance.

Dr Leigh Riby, a psychology lecturer at the university who led the research, claims that people who suffer from poor memory have difficulties in regulating sugar levels in their brains. He believes it is possible to identify people who are likely to have memory problems in later life by examining the way their bodies deal with sugar and to help them by making simple changes to their diet. But he also claims that a quick fix of glucose can help even people with good memory improve their performance. "I encourage my students to have an energy drink before lectures, as it helps them learn more," he said. "When young and middle-aged adults are given glucose supplements, their memory activity increases as their brains are flooded with glucose, which triggers activation of the cells in the hippocampus area of the brain. "This area lights up with activity when extra glucose is taken into the body."

In a series of studies carried out using memory tests on volunteers, the researchers found that those who had drinks laced with glucose before their tasks were up to 17% better at remembering. Sophisticated brain-imaging techniques also revealed high levels of activity in the area of the brain related to memory shortly after participants consumed high-sugar energy drinks. In tests where volunteers were asked to remember a list of words, those that drank orange-flavoured water containing 25g of sugar, about the same as a can of Coca-Cola, could remember 11% more words. If they drank twice that amount of sugar, they showed a 17% improvement. The study, conducted in 25 adults aged between 18 and 52 years old, also showed that the participants were around 100 milliseconds faster at remembering sets of letters shown to them a few minutes earlier.
It may help to explain the secret behind the new Tory leader David Cameron's vote-winning speech, delivered without notes during the party leadership campaign. Cameron later revealed that he drinks tea with 10 spoonfuls of sugar in it before giving key speeches, after former leader William Hague advised him it would coat his larynx and stop his mouth drying out. But the research at Caledonian University suggests the highly sweetened drink also helped him remember key points.
Riby is now attempting to develop interventions to help adults with poor memory to use their natural sugar reserves more effectively. He said: "In the long term, poor glucose regulation can lead to poor memory function in later adulthood. "Our work shows that if we can 'train' our bodies early in life to effectively use their own glucose reserves, poor memory function can be minimised. "By changing the diet of young or middle-aged adults who have trouble regulating their own glucose levels, it would be possible to reduce the memory problems they may have. "We want to do this as much as possible through natural diet, as there are a number of reasons not to give people lots of sugar."

Riby also claims that his research, which was funded by the NHS and Wellcome Trust, explains why people can remember frightening and unpleasant experiences far more readily. He said: "It is not surprising that glucose levels have become so inexorably linked to memory from an evolutionary point of view. When a stressful event such as being put in danger or being frightened occurs, adrenaline levels go up, which increases the natural glucose levels in the blood. "This causes lots of glucose to flood the brain and trigger the formation of memories."
Another key area of the group's work is to use glucose supplements to enhance memory in elderly patients suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Dementia affects more than 63,000 people in Scotland and costs the NHS millions of pounds in care. Previous research by Riby found that dementia patients showed dramatic improvements in their memory after being given glucose.
But public health experts warned against drinking large quantities of sugary drinks in a bid to boost memory function. David Conway, a clinical lecturer in dental public health at Glasgow University, said: "It is clearly going to cause serious problems not just for teeth but for general health if people start consuming large amounts of sugar. "The best way is to ensure sugar intake is achieved at regular meal times rather than constantly, which does not allow the teeth to recover."

TAKING THE TEST
Scotland on Sunday sent reporter Richard Gray and three volunteers to test out whether they really could improve their memories with a sugary drink. We asked them to memorise a string of playing cards pulled randomly from a shuffled pack. They were then told to chat among themselves for two minutes before then writing down all the cards they could remember.

Richard Gray, 26, reporter, Edinburgh
The first round, before drinking any sugar supplement, produced an abysmal performance from our reporter who could only recall two of the 10 cards the group were shown. But immediately after draining his can of glucose-packed Lucozade he managed to remember five. Ten minutes after the drink, Richard managed to remember all but one of the cards.

Terezie Hanzliokove, 24, a catering worker, from the Czech Republic
Terezie emerged as the overall memory champion, memorising eight out of 10 of the cards in the first, pre-sugar round. After the drink she scored full marks.

Chris Allen, 18, a gift shop assistant at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh
The teenager from Dalkeith, Midlothian, recalled eight cards in the first round.
Then, 10 minutes after his drink, he remembered 11 of 12 cards.

Morne Abrahams, 19, canteen assistant
The South African living in Edinburgh remembered only one of the cards before his drink and then scored full marks in the second round. In the last round he remembered nine of the 12 cards shown to the group.
top



The Masters of Memory

Profile: After scaling the Mt. Olympus of total recall, Scott Hagwood came down to earth with a new calling: helping ordinary people to develop extraordinary memories.by Daniel Pendick

There are two Scott Hagwoods. One is a consultant and workshop leader who coaches people on how to harness the power of human memory. He is also the four-time winner of the USA Memory Championship and America’s first international memory grandmaster. He calls his other persona “Scott the Dancing Bear.”

Scott the Dancing Bear can take a shuffled deck of cards in his paws, flip through them slowly, and then minutes later recall the exact order of all 52 cards. To become a grandmaster, Hagwood had to perform this memory feat on seven decks of cards within an hour, followed by memorizing a single shuffled deck in less than three minutes. At last count he could memorize nine decks of cards in 60 minutes and a single deck in 90 seconds. Though proud to be a memory Olympian, Hagwood sometimes wearies of the demand to perform. “I just feel very uncomfortable in the limelight,” he says. “I don’t think I’m any different from anybody else.”

Which is the whole point of his work as Scott Hagwood, sole proprietor of the Center for Creative Memory Leadership in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Everyone’s brain contains an elegantly efficient memory machine, he says. And you can learn to harness its potential, just like he did. In fact, most people could learn how to perform the card memorization trick in a matter of days.
If Hagwood and the world’s other memory champions are masters of anything, it’s a set of proven memorization techniques known as mnemonics. The same tools that created Scott the Dancing Bear can improve your life and perhaps even help to counteract age-related memory loss. “Anybody can develop their memory to an extraordinary level,” he says.

A Lump In The Throat
Hagwood’s path to memory enhancement started as a nearly impalpable lump in his thyroid. The butterfly-shaped gland, just below the Adam’s apple, produces thyroid hormone, which helps to regulate human growth and metabolism. Too much thyroid hormone brings a racing heart, high blood pressure, irritability, and nervousness. Without the hormone, people grow fatigued, depressed, and bloated. Another common complication of thyroid problems is memory impairment—that caught Hagwood’s eye. “I didn’t have a great memory to begin with,” he says. “I did average in high school and college.”

The day before Hagwood’s 36th birthday, his doctor found a small nodule in his thyroid gland. The birthday present fate delivered the next day was a diagnosis of thyroid cancer. Surgeons removed the gland immediately and Hagwood started taking synthetic thyroid hormone. Once a year, he had to go to Duke University Medical Center for a test to determine if any cancerous cells had escaped before the thyroid was removed. This involved swallowing radioactive iodine and then sitting in a lead-lined room for hours to allow the iodine to permeate his body. Cancerous cells would absorb the iodine and then light up as bright spots on a body scan. Thankfully, the scan found no residue of cancer. (Hagwood remains cancer free to this day.)

Concern over memory impairment lingered in Hagwood’s mind. “It was during that time that I thought there might be something I could do to help facilitate my memory.” Perhaps he could find a way to inoculate himself from memory impairment associated with his thyroid condition. A search at the local bookstore turned up a variety of IQ-boosting books and memory enhancement guides. Then he came across one of the scores of books by Tony Buzan, Use Your Perfect Memory.
Buzan is a celebrity in memory enhancement in Europe. One chapter discussed how to improve test scores. “It seemed like he was talking to me.” Hagwood had understood the material in school but did not perform well in tests, he realized, because he didn’t know how to study properly.

All In The Cards
The next phase of Hagwood’s transformation occurred in the lead-lined vault while he was waiting for the radioactive iodine to spread. In the Buzan book, he read a description of how to memorize a deck of cards. This intrigued him. “I thought, hmmm, I wonder if I could use this in Vegas?”

At first glance, memorizing an entire deck of cards seems just short of miraculous. The world record holder, Andi Bell, memorized a deck in 32.9 seconds. However, it’s not as hard a you think. The mind can retain large amounts of mundane information—such as the number and suit of each card in a  deck—if you learn how to enrich the information and make it inherently more memorable. Mnemonic techniques effectively make information more sticky in memory.

Champion memorians memorize decks of cards with a variety of techniques. Hagwood’s modus operandi is an adaptation of the centuries-old “Roman room” method. This mnemonic device was used by the Romans to memorize large amounts of information, but was originally invented in the 5th century B.C. by a Greek. Fundamentally the Roman room method involves associating new and unfamiliar information with the old and familiar—locations within the rooms of your house or apartment, for example. Here’s what Hagwood does to memorize a deck of cards:

First, there is an initial training period in which each card is associated with a unique and memorable image. Hagwood calls it a “conversion.” For example, he associates 3¨ with the image of an explosion and J§ with a large Medieval-style war club. The conversions are arbitrary, although to work well should be striking, funny, unusual, or vivid.

As Hagwood flips through the shuffled deck, he starts walking through the rooms of his house. Each room has 10 locations where he can store the memory of each card: four corners at the floor, four corners at the ceiling, the floor, and the ceiling. That covers an entire suit of ten cards.

Each location in the room is numbered in a consistent pattern. As he walks into the first room, the corner of the floor at his left is position 1. The equivalent corner in the next room is position 11, and so on. If the first card in the deck is 3¨ (associated with “explosion”), he needs to create an association between the card and position 1 of the first room. Say there is a coat rack in that corner of the room. Hagwood then visualizes a coat rack exploding. This strongly associates 3¨ with the first corner of the first room.

Say the 11th card in the deck is J§ (associated with “war club”). Since the first room can only hold 10 cards, the first corner of the second room (position 1) is where he will store the 11th card. Say there is a radiator in that corner. Hagwood visualizes the war club smashing the radiator to bits.

Once he’s placed 50 cards in five rooms and the final two in two other known locations—say on the chimney of the house and on the gas grill in the yard—Hagwood then mentally walks back through the rooms, recalling each card based on the vivid image associated with each location. With practice, you can do it perfectly almost every time.

Hagwood started to teach himself to memorize decks of cards during his first thyroid scan. This was a pretty inexpensive way to pass the time, since everything he wore and carried in would become weakly radioactive and had to be left behind for disposal. But Hagwood says he was not merely learning a party trick. He figured that memorizing decks of cards would have broader benefit regarding mental skills. He also began to use memorization techniques from Buzan’s books at his job. Hagwood worked for General Electric, visiting various production facilities and evaluating potential safety risks. He found he could use mnemonic techniques to memorize the names of the various personnel at all the different plants he visited.

Memory Champions
In February 2000, just after Hagwood’s second thyroid scan, he caught part of a profile on the television program 20/20 about Tatiana Cooley-Marquardt. Like Hagwood, Cooley-Marquardt was a devote of Tony Buzan. She had also won the first three USA Memory Championships—in 1998, 1999, and 2000. Tony Buzan started the first such competition, The World Memory Championship, in Europe in 1991. One of Buzan’s disciples, Tony Dottino, started the USA competition. Hagwood went to the ABC website to learn more about the championship. His reaction was typical of the uninitiated. “You have to remember how many cards and how quickly? That’s impossible. I was just completely blown away. I thought, no way am I going to be able to do that.”

The USA championship has five different sub-competitions. The first challenge is to memorize the names and faces on a series of 99 color photos in 15 minutes or less and recall them in 20 minutes. In the next challenge, competitors must memorize a list of 100 random words within 15 minutes and recall them in 20 minutes. In “speed numbers,” competitors memorize single random digits from 0 to 9. (The list consists of 25 rows of 40 digits each.) Competitors have 5 minutes to memorize the numbers and 5 minutes to recall. Next, they must memorize an unpublished 50-line poem. Finally, in “speed cards,” competitors have 5 minutes to memorize a deck of shuffled cards and 5 minutes to recall them. And as if that wasn’t hard enough, they must then take a deck arranged in perfect order and reconfigure them to the exact sequence of the shuffled deck. Partial points are awarded based on how much of each task the competitors complete.

Hagwood continued to practice the card memorization trick and keep detailed records of his performance. But it took some good-natured ribbing from his brother to get him to enter the USA competition. After twisting his ankle in a family touch football game, Hagwood lay in bed as his brother teased him for being old and out of shape.  “I said I may have gotten slower and gained a few pounds, but I’ve gotten smarter too,” he recalls. “Give me a deck of cards!” So he shuffled the cards and perfectly memorized them in about 10 minutes. “The look of his face…kind of like that MasterCard commercial: priceless! I’ve never seen him so surprised.”

He entered the 2001 USA Memory Championship, facing stiff competition from the reigning champ, Cooley-Marquardt. Hagwood finished first in names and faces but didn’t do especially well in random numbers. His lead on Cooley-Marquardt began to dwindle. The only way to beat her would be to nail the card memorization event and score maximum points. “This was exactly the thing I had been practicing in the hospital,” Hagwood explains, “and it was not Tatiana’s strongest event.” To win, he had to recall all 52 cards—and this at a time when the US record was only 27 cards. He did so, got bonus points for it, and edged out Tatiana. This landed him on Good Morning America—his first serious national exposure. Then he won the next three competitions in a row—in 2002, 2003, and 2004.

People who win national events are eligible to compete in the World Memory Championship, which is held outside of the United States. The competition consisted of 10 separate events. Hagwood did not win, although he placed 11th in the world. However, he did become a memory Grandmaster. This required him to memorize 715 random numbers, seven decks of cards in an hour or less, and a single deck of cards in under 3 minutes.

Looking back on where he started, Hagwood seems surprised by just how far he has come from his former life as an average guy with what he thought was a below-average memory. “I felt like if I could do this, if I could train my brain, if I could make this thing I thought was just a total memory wreck… if I could organize it and be able to recall almost anything I wanted to, anybody could be able to do that.”

Memory Calling
The prizes offered at memory competitions are modest—enough to keep you supplied with playing cards for life, but not enough to live on. Some champions have parlayed their celebrity into memory enhancement guidebooks or consulting to business people and other groups. For example, Frank Felberbaum, who in 1995 won the first U.S. Gold Medal at the World Memory Olympics held in London, England, has tutored thousands of business executives at his Memory Training Institute in Geneva, Switzerland. He recently published The Business of Memory: How to Maximize Your Brain Power and Fast Track Your Career.

As Hagwood’s celebrity grew, he received more and more invitations to speak and perform, and also to participate in memory-enhancement workshops modeled on Tony Buzan’s “mind mapping” concept. The technique is taught to workshop facilitators like Hagwood in Palm Beach, Florida. Mind mapping promises to enable people to distill any body of information—an after dinner speech, the history of England, the Red Sox scores from 1933-2004—into a combination of key words and symbols. Hagwood compares each element of the mind map to a computer screen icon used to launch a program or document: double click it, and you unlock a larger chunk of information from memory.

In 2004, Hagwood was approached by a publisher who had seen him on TV. Two publishers ultimately bid on the project, which culminated in his first book: Memory Power: You Can Develop A Great Memory. America’s Grandmaster Shows You How. It is scheduled for publication by Simon & Schuster in January 2006.

As a layman memory athlete, Hagwood has had to do some neuroscience homework to lend credibility to his consulting work. He says he has spoken to a number of memory scientists and read everything about human memory he could find and understand. “It’s been kind of like a personal mission, a calling.” He has found a lot of support for one of the key take home messages of his book and his group talks—one that any memory researcher would agree with: “Our memories are really more extraordinary than we give them credit for.”

Hagwood emphasizes that people always fixate on the things we forget—that person’s name you just talked to for an hour at a party, or the location of your wallet or car keys. “But we don’t think about the millions of things we do remember during the day. The book is really about focusing that.” Or in other words, the remarkable machinery of memory exists in all of us at birth; you just need to discover it and cultivate it.

meditations
top