How to keep your mind in shape


If you don't remember what your boss told you at this morning's meeting it is most likely due to a lack of attention. On the other hand if your grandmother complains that her memory is not what it used to be and that she cannot remember all her neighbours' names, it definitely is a sign of ageing. But don't despair! There is help: memory training.

Dana Steinova, the head of the Czech Society for memory training, is the founder of the country's first centre of life-long learning. Since 1993 when it started offering various classes to seniors the idea has spread. Life-long learning kills two birds with one stone. It helps to keep seniors alert and entertained. They are not bored and are less likely to dwell on their health problems. Dana Steinova

"The world population is ageing. And the sources of labour and funds are very limited. We are trying to prolong independence of elderly as long as we can and the memory training is very effective tool against mental decline."

Our short-term memory capacity is limited and cannot be expanded. What we can do is to improve the relationship between the short and the long-term memory by giving all information its own special form - a mnemonic that can be easily encoded in our memory store. There is no age limit and even ninety-year-old people can easily remember a lot of information by using mnemonics. Memory aids were invented in Antiquity as a source of entertainment. Dana Steinova offers a mnemonic for all nine planets starting with the Sun.

"My very educated mother just served us nine pumpkins. So what is My - Mercury, very - Venus, educated - Earth, mother - Mars, just - Jupiter, served - Saturn, us - Uranus, nine - Neptune, pumpkins - Pluto. With help of such acrostics you can easily remember 43 American presidents in chronological order, 94 Czech Rulers or anything that you need."

In the space of just 68 seconds Michaela Buchvaldova can easily remember a random sequence of 52 playing cards. She is the triple world champion in memorizing. Her name was added to the Guinness Book of Records when Michaela remembered 13 random birth dates with a total of 104 digits in two minutes. She says it is very easy. You just have to have your own personal image for every pair of digits. Here are a few of Michaela's own examples.

"11 is death. I have a picture of a flag of pirates with skull and bones in my head, 38 is mafia so I see one person in a black jacket with a big rose and a pistol, 7 is a key, 40 is a rose that I very nice, 33 is my mother."

Only four people in the world are able to remember three digits numbers. Unfortunately Michaela is not one of them, unlike her husband who is also an active memory athlete. Their daily training with special software takes about three hours. Is her life any different as a result of this unusual sport?

"I think that it is funnier and nicer. You can really use these practices for presentation for memorizing a text. It depends what you want to use it for but it is useable for everything."

One of the lecturers at the long-life centre is Jaroslav Flejberk. He also prepares different logic quizzes and tests for listeners of the Czech Radio. These are mainly rows of numbers with a code which has to be revealed to find out the next number. Jaroslav Flejberk offers a simple one.

"1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 and you must guess what will be the next."

You were right if you guessed 34 which is, like all the other numbers, the sum of the two previous numbers. According to Jaroslav Flejberk this logical thinking can be developed by regular training. In his view it is only 5 percent given aptitude and 95 percent of hard work. What are the advantages of such memory?

"Practical usage is that you know what your wife says to you and I remember what my wife tells me to buy. I am also a computer man it means that these rows are often used in computers so I know what comes next and get the result quicker than others."