CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT: Remembering Information
The Issue: People with head injuries forget a lot of the new information they get. Recall tends to be uneven, with the most interesting material being most likely to be remembered. The more information learned at one time, and the less familiar the information is, the less gets remembered.
Which injuries cause this symptom: Focal frontal and temporal lobe injuries, severe diffuse injury?
What you can do: There are four strategies for coping with memory problems. You can have someone else do the remembering for you, but that makes you dependent on them. You can try to use memory tricks– there are paperback books filled with memory tricks. Unfortunately, these tricks only work to limited extent after a head injury, and it takes so much work to memorize the kind of information we have to learn in ordinary life that the tricks really don’t work. The third strategy is to write down what you need to
Remember. This always works. But it doesn’t do you any good unless you have a filing system. What good is taking notes if you can’t find them when you need them?
The fourth strategy is memorization. To memorize information you have to focus your mind on it hard. The longer and harder you think about it, the less likely you are to forget it. Also, the more ways you think about it, the better you will remember it–this is called “deep processing.” How did you first learn about it–who told you? What good is this information–when are you going to use it again? What does it have to do with things you already know? The more connections you make, the more you will remember.
This is the first step in studying information in school. Take the time, find a quiet place to work, clear your mind, and think hard about the information.
None of these strategies is what people really want. What they want is to have their brain make memories automatically, without any special effort, like it used to. That’s not going to happen. You will always be forgetful, or you will always be a person who uses these strategies–you choose which one.
In case you are in school, or plan to take some kind of training course where you have to learn a lot of information, you should know about the rest of the techniques used for studying. The techniques are based on the idea of studying only what you need to study. First, you take the material (notes or reading material) and underline the points you need to learn, leaving out filler words, side comments, unimportant examples, duplicate references, and connector words. Then you turn that information into questions and answers written on flash cards and test yourself. When you can remember the answer to a question, you put it in the discard pile. That way, each time you finish testing yourself you have less to study. The less you need to study, the quicker you can learn it. Pretty soon, you’re done. This technique works well to print information into the minds of people who have even fairly serious memory problems.
What do you do if the information is being spoken, and the speaker is going so fast that you can’t take complete notes? A similar problem comes when the information is given out in a setting full of distractions. The answer is to tape record the information, and when you get home, make notes off of the tape. Play the tape back one sentence at a time, and then write it down. It takes most people about twice as long as the lecture to take complete notes from a tape recording. It’s a lot of work, but many students have been able to go back to college only because they could tape record their lectures.
What kind of information do you need to take notes on? You should plan this out ahead of time. Some kinds are obvious: instructions, directions, and explanations of matters that you will have to deal with (for example, recommendations from your doctor, lawyer or accountant). If you have to go to court, you need to write down what the judge instructs you to do. At work, if your boss is unhappy with your work, you need to write down his or her concerns word for word, and make sure you have a written record of everything he or she wants you to do differently. It’s easy to forget to take notes– because you now need to take them in lots of situations in which you didn’t take notes before. When I explain the results of brain testing, about one patient in twenty takes notes without being instructed. You need to be careful to be vigilant about, and anticipate, the situations in which note taking is going to be important. Note-taking is necessary whenever you are about to get a lot of information that you will need to keep or use in the future.
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