Forgetting someone’s name is a very common occurrence. Vivid, accurate memory is a hard trick for the human brain to pull off. The brain consists of many neurons’ which do many different jobs besides just remembering. The brain does not act like a camera. It cannot take a complete snapshot of all the details of an experience. Rather, it uses a few details of the experience to fill in the gaps to remember the full picture.

For example, you may remember hosting a BBQ on the deck, and later remember that you were eating cheeseburgers. Then you remember a girl (who wanted only a small burger) asked what kind of trees you had planted in your yard. You will remember that she was wearing a green shirt- the same color as trees…

Recalling one aspect of an experience, will ultimately generate a full picture of the day. But no element will help you recall the name of the girl, because names are usually arbitrary.

As we age, our memory starts to function less well and names are often one of the first things to escape us. There are several strategies you can use to help you recall names and other important and functional pieces of information in your life. Here are a few that may help;

  1. Say it aloud/Repeat– Say the name and try to plug it into the conversation you are having.
  • Associate/Visualize– Think of a garden for a man named Gordon, think of a banana for a woman named Hannah, think of a pen scribbling for a man named Mark. The stranger the better.
  • Make connections– file the person in the same category as another person you know with the same name. Ex- “Bill, like my cousin.”
  • Write it down– Keep a log of new people you’ve met or ask for a business card if appropriate.  Research shows that the act of writing something activates three different areas of the brain that are responsible for memory.
  • Repeat again– Upon parting, say their name again while looking at their face and make an effort to commit it to memory.
  • Make peace with forgetting– the harder you try to remember the name when you are in the moment, the harder it will be to remember. The brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for focus, reasoning, and memory begins to shut down under pressure. That is why the name comes to you long after it is relevant. Your retention will also be better if you are relaxed. It is best to say “I’m sorry, but I forgot your name” and implement the strategies above.

If you have further questions regarding memory, word recall, or other cognitive changes, reach out to your local provider for a referral to a Speech Language Pathologist. For more information on how our Therapy and Wellness team can assist you, please call 218-283-5420.