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Aug 05, 2005

Mnemonic devices may help brain-injured patients

Mnemonics are devices that allows for classification, organization, storage and recollection of information into and out of long-term memory. In Ancient Rome, orators used mnemonics to remember the points they wanted to make in a speech. The method of remembering they used is called the Method of Loci, invented by the Greek poet Simonides about 500 B.C. Simonides was asked to recite a poem at a banquet, given by one of his patrons, and after doing so the room fell in, burying all in its debris, and disfiguring the bodies so as to render identification impossible. Simonides, however, had noted the position each guest had occupied, and was thus able to point out the remains of each. (A.E. Middleton, All About Mnemonics, London, 1885).

Modern neurosciences have showed that effectiveness of visual imagery mnemonics like Method of Loci is based on the human capability to remember objects when they are placed in a visual structured context. The literature on the use of visual imagery as a mnemonic device has consistently shown that subjects who use visual imagery to help them learn verbal material do considerably better than subjects who attempt to learn the material using simple rote repetition. Brain imaging research has shown that when visual imagery is used to learn verbal material, subjects show brain activity in systems normally involved in processing visual stimuli. The implications of these findings point to the potential learning advantage of a complex imagination.

There is clinical evidence that visual imagery mnemonics are particularly useful in remediation of memory disorders in brain-damaged patients. In particular, research suggests that such techniques can lead to improved performance on formal testing in a number of neurologic disease populations and following lesions of either the left or right hemisphere.

More to explore

Yates, F. (1966) The Art of Memory, Chicago University of Chicago Press

Richardson, J.T. (1992). Imagery mnemonics and memory remediation. Neurology 42 (2):283-286

Medical Mnemonics - A free, non-profit, online searchable database of medical mnemonics to help remember the important details

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