Spring clean your mind to avoid memory lapses

London: Struggling to remember names and numbers? It could be because you know too much and need to declutter or spring clean your mind, scientists say.

A new research by Canadian scientists showed that the memory lapses that come with age are not simply due to brain slowing down.

Instead, they could be because the well-used brains, especially of the elderlies, find it hard to stop irrelevant information interfering with the task in hand, they found.

The first step in the study was to compare the working memory of the young and old. Working memory involves holding information in mind while manipulating it mentally.

Everyday life examples include retain plots of films and books to understand or predict what will happen next and following the thread of a conversation while working out how you can contribute to the topic.

For this experiment, the researchers gave volunteers groups of sentences and asked them to work out whether each line made sense — and to remember the last word of each sentence. Overall, the younger people, who had an average age of 23, did better compared to the aged volunteers.

The researchers then did a second experiment to see what was hindering the older participants, who had an average age of 67.

This involved showing them pictures of eight animals and asked to memorise the order in which the creatures appeared. The volunteers were then shown dozens of the images and asked to click on their computer mouse when the images appear as per their memorised sequence.

The older adults found it more difficult to progress, suggesting the previous picture was stuck in their mind.

Mervin Blair, who led the research at the Concordia University in Montreal, said: "We found that the older adults had more difficulty in getting rid of previous information. That accounted for a lot of the working memory problems seen in the study."

A third study confirmed that the memory problems were not simply due to a simple slowing down of the mind.

Blair said the older mind appears to have trouble suppressing irrelevant information. This makes it more difficult to concentrate on the here and now. For those who have trouble remembering, he suggested relaxation exercises to declutter the mind.

"Reduce clutter, if you don`t, you may not get anything done," he said, adding that though learning a language or musical instrument can help keep your mind young.

He also warned that younger people can fall foul of memory lapses caused by a failure to suppress extraneous information, with sleepless nights making it harder for the brain to function properly, he added.

The findings are published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.