Interview with Dr. Bill Klemm, “Memory Medic”

Dear Readers,

I don’t normally run endorsements of other people’s books, but I decided to make an exception for this one. It’s written by one of my old professors, and it’s about how science can help you improve your memory. Back when I was in college, I read Dr. Klemm’s first book on memory, “Thank You Brain,” and it helped me to make some radical changes to my study habits. It was super helpful, and I still use many of his tips to this day. Below is a Q&A by Dr. Klemm, and a link to his new book.

Virginia

“Improve Your Memory for a Healthy Brain. Memory is the Canary in Your Brain’s Coal Mine.”

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Why did you write this book?

I am a neuroscientist, and have always had an interest in memory. Early on, the interest was there because memory skills made school and college easier to master. Later, I got into research and actually did memory experiments on rats and college students. As I got older, I wanted to stay mentally healthy as long as I could. I see so many of my older friends slipping mentally. It is so sad, and I wanted to do what I can to help people from reaching a stage of mental deterioration. Because I follow the memory research literature anyway, I wanted to share the helpful findings that scientists have been discovering over the last few decades.

I understand it is an e-book. Why did you choose that format?

That makes it inexpensive. Everybody should be able to afford it. Besides, in e-format it is easy to search around for reminders and topics you want to look up. The book is available at Amazon, but at Smashwords.com you can get it in any e-format, including pdf.

Why do you say that memory is the canary in the brain’s coal mine?

Many decades ago, before there was technology to detect accumulation of toxic gases in coal mines, miners used to put a caged canary in the mine with them. If they canary keeled over, it was time to get out. Well, memory is like that. Declining ability for remembering is a sign that brain damage has occurred. In this case, by the time you notice a problem, it may be too late. The good news is that training your memory is very effective exercise for the brain, and such exercise of the brain builds robust circuitry that accumulates as a cognitive reserve as one ages.

People are living so much longer and so much grief is happening in families because of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. How does memory training apply here?

Research demonstrates that though memory training may not prevent dementia, it surely delays it and allows more years of normal brain function. 

How does memory exercise and training help delay brain aging?

You could make an analogy to how weight lifting builds muscles. Only brain uses different mechanisms. Whenever the brain forms a lasting memory, the brain has to create new circuitry to hold the representation of that memory. The storage space is created by changing the synaptic weightings of the neural circuits that will house that memory representation. By synaptic weighting, I mean basically a “souping up” of the pathways so that the circuit is preferentially re-set for that particular memory. The weighting has to be achieved by greater neurotransmitter activity. This requires gene activation to grow synaptic junctions and to augment the enzyme systems needed for more transmitter. These gene expression changes create real anatomical and chemical changes. Changing memory changes brain. In terms of aging, this means that a large store of memories creates more circuitry, which means the brain can do more things. This can be essentially a “cognitive reserve” that compensates for physical deterioration that might be occurring. An example is that autopsies of some people have shown that their brains had the lesions of Alzheimer’s Disease, but they never showed clinical symptoms because they had been so mentally active all their life.

Why don’t more people make a conscious effort to improve their memory?

I am baffled. Maybe part of the answer is that any kind of change is hard. Another factor is that many people do not believe they can improve their mental and memory capability. They likely do not know how to improve memory ability, which of course is a main reason I wrote the book. I see this problem even in the young, particularly college students who trap themselves and persist in bad learning strategies and habits, even after I show them a better way. They seem set in their ways, in spite of being young.

How does the information in this book apply to you personally?

I turn 81 this July and think I can document that I am mentally at the top of my game. All my life I have learned about and used memory enhancement ideas. Although this life has been an experiment with n=1, I think the results are more than coincidence. And research involving other people that I describe in the book supports this conclusion.

W.R. Klemm, “Memory Medic,” has two other memory books: Memory Power 101, a general-audience book on improving memory, and Better Grades, Less Effort, an e-book on learning and memory tips for students. You can learn more at his website, www.ThankYouBrain.com.