10 at Vantage House learn how to improve memory

February 23, 1994|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Special to The Sun

About 10 residents of the Vantage House Retirement Community in Columbia met on a recent Friday evening to remedy a common malady -- forgetfulness.

After taking a six-week memory-retention course at Vantage House, taught by fellow resident Jean Brunstetter, participants wanted to learn more and thought they were ready for the "graduate memory course."

"Society tells us that we are going to get forgetful and ultimately go senile," said Mrs. Brunstetter, a resident at Vantage House since its opening in 1990. The 65-year-old teacher is the director of the computer lab at the learning assistance center at Catonsville Community College.

"The myth of senility is fine to laugh at," said Mrs. Brunstetter, "but don't buy into it. Alzheimer's disease is everyone's hidden fear. I tell my students, 'forgetfulness is when you forget where you put your glasses; senility is when you forget you need glasses.' "

"The first line of defense is the intention to remember," Mrs. Brunstetter said. "You can't say, 'I am never going to remember this person's name.' "

Students Florence Mullen and Virginia Irwin say the course has been beneficial to them.

"I am here because the course has enabled me to mix with my neighbors," says Mrs. Mullen, 84, a three-year resident of Vantage House.

Mrs. Irwin, who said she is "over 80," has been a resident for just six months.

"I was overwhelmed by all of the people when I moved here, but after I joined the class, it helped knowing that other people were having the same problems of remembering," Mrs. Irwin said.

Mrs. Brunstetter, who admits to "having to work at it just like everyone else," said she tells students that the best way to remember names is to get to know people and then associate something about them with their name.

For example, when the teacher first met Mrs. Irwin -- one of 19 students enrolled in the course -- she discovered that Mrs. Irwin was the eighth "Virginia" living at the retirement community, which was an easy association to help remember the name.

Mrs. Brunstetter taught reading and study skills for 15 years at Anne Arundel Community College and for 20 years, she tutored middle and high school students with learning problems in her home.

She began her first memory retention course at Vantage House last April and has since taught the subject at a retirement community in Baltimore County. All the courses are offered at no charge.

Mrs. Brunstetter says teaching senior citizens is much like teaching college students, except senior classes usually go more slowly because older students aren't as familiar with class strategies.

The teacher advised older students to give themselves more time to ask questions and not to expect to remember things as well as as they did when they were younger.

Mrs. Brunstetter emphasized the importance of practice. "If you don't review, you lose it," she said. "You must practice, practice, practice." Mrs. Brunstetter has adapted a list of tips for students from the Joan Minninger's book, "Total Recall."

Her suggestions include:

* Be impressed, pick something to remember.

* Listen to name, put it in a category: same as someone I know, same as a celebrity, sounds like a word, name of something, rhymes with something.

* Repeat the name. Ask again later: this is flattering.

* Lock the name to the face.

* Get acquainted, remember interesting details to associate with the name and face.

* Write it down as soon as possible.

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