Tips for Improving Memory and Recall


If the human brain were a hard drive, it could hold up to 2.5 petabytes of information. That’s 2.5 million gigabytes. To put that into perspective, the average computer generally holds about 300 gigabytes. No matter how you frame it, that’s a lot of information. But it’s one thing to feasibly store that amount, it’s another to readily access that information and put it to good use.

This is the challenge nurses face every day. For example, for any one patient, a nurse may need to know which medication to recommend for treatment. But beyond recalling the name of the drug, a nurse must also be able to remember information about its usage, side effects and potential interactions with other drugs. Now imagine this same scenario, except with six patients instead of one. And each patient needs various levels of help. Very quickly, the amount of information which you need to readily recall grows exponentially.

So, what’s a nurse to do?


Try visualization, for starters, suggests Mary Yoho, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, president of Chamberlain’s Houston campus. “Visualization is a process commonly used by elite athletes to help them train and prepare for important competitions and events,” said Dr. Yoho. “Nursing students will often learn something in class or in the lab and there might be a gap of time before they apply it. So how do you minimize the impact of that gap? With visualization.”

Much as it sounds, visualization involves envisioning yourself accomplishing a task. Time spent picturing the steps you will take and walking through a routine you need to execute can actually effectively prepare your mind and body to follow through once in the moment. So if a student reads about the technique used to insert an IV, but won’t actually be able to practice inserting a needle for a few weeks, spending the time in between on visualizing the actions for inserting the IV will help the student better recall what to do when the time comes.

Mnemonic devices

Dr. Yoho also advocates the use of mnemonic devices. A mnemonic device is a technique used to help your brain better encode and recall important information. For nurses, this typically comes in the form of creating acronyms which resemble common words.

Some nurses shared their mnemonic devices in a discussion thread on the popular nursing website For example, if you want to recall the symptoms of hypoglycemia, just remember the word “TIRED.” Each letter represents a symptom of the condition, as in:

  • Tired
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Excessive hunger
  • Diaphoresis-depression


Dr. Yoho said most students find mnemonics especially useful as a study aid, but once they are working full-time, mnemonic devices come in handy most when trying to recall the details about drugs.

Brain teasers & games

When traditional studying and memorizing techniques become tedious, you should consider a fun alternative. From crosswords and Sudoku to riddles and puzzles, brain teasers and other games can go a long way to keep your memory sharp. Brain teasers require you to think in unconventional ways, often with constraints. Add in a competitive element, and the experience is even more rewarding.

“A game is a lot more fun than just memorizing,” said Dr. Yoho. “It’s more challenging. And all of our students are pretty competitive. So when classes are broken into teams and they play a Jeopardy-style game organized by faculty, it’s a more enjoyable and engaging way for them to recall information.”

Food for thought

You may have heard about foods which can help improve your memory such as omega-3 fatty acids. While Dr. Yoho doesn’t cite any specific foods, she does advocate eating an all-around healthy diet.

“I tell everybody, eat fresh. Eat fresh foods as much as you can. The fresher you get, the purer the vitamins and minerals will be in the foods you eat.” Dr. Yoho adds that a fresh diet will do more than just help your memory; it will help you physically, mentally and emotionally as well. This, in turn, can help improve your nursing ability overall.

If you do want to seek out foods which are highlighted as having brain benefits, here’s a short list:

  • Omega-3s are readily found in the following fish: tuna, salmon, trout, halibut and mackerel. If you prefer avoid seafood, you can also find them in broccoli, pumpkin seeds, spinach and soybeans.
  • You can protect brain cells with antioxidants found in vegetables such as arugula, broccoli, spinach and romaine lettuce. Also try fruits like bananas, mangoes, cantaloupe and watermelon.
  • Studies have shown that drinking red wine in moderation can help prevent memory loss. You can learn more about it and other memory saving foods here.


There’s an app for that

Even the best tips and tactics for memory can fall short when nurses are faced with the sheer volume of information they need to recall about the thousands of drugs on the market. For this specific instance, Dr. Yoho recommends Davis’s Drug Guide.

The annually published guide keeps very close to what nurses need to know, said Dr. Yoho. She added that the commonly reached for book is now offered as a free app on popular mobile devices. “To me, this is part of safe practice now - to have that information at your fingertips, so that you can readily access it and make sure that you are giving safe care to your patients.”

What tips do you have for improving memory and recall? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

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