Fighting mental decline

An online course for those in mid-life concerned by declining abilities at learning, remembering, & thinking

US$95 / £60 / Є75 / NZ$110+GST / AU$90

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This course is designed for those who are worried they are not as ‘sharp’ as before, that they cannot learn or remember as well as they used to be able to. The course covers much of the material in the general interest course, but with a focus on how age and health issues can affect cognition, and includes additional material on memory and cognition in normal aging.

The course is run by Dr Fiona McPherson, cognitive psychologist, author of four books on memory & learning, and creator of the long-running and extensive Mempowered website.

The course includes tests to assess your cognitive skills, short videos, downloadable audio, downloadable book chapters & articles, worksheets, plus guided instruction in mastering the strategies and exercises to practice them.

The course is designed to be taken in the student’s own time, however Dr McPherson will be available to discuss problems and answer questions in forum or by email.


What you’ll learn

The basic principles of how memory works, and how these apply in different memory situations and to different memory strategies.

What factors affect your memory, and the changes in your habits that can improve your memory. (This section is considerably more detailed in this course than in the general interest course.)

How to recognize difficult memory situations, and ways to deal with them.

How to practice effectively, to maximize learning.

How to improve your attention & focus.

A ‘tool-box’ of general & specific memory strategies you can apply in common memory and learning situations.


Memory situations covered include:

Remembering information

Remembering future intentions & events

Keeping track of what you’re doing

Remembering names & faces

Learning a new skill


Course outline

[Note: all units are not equal! Some are considerably longer and more important than others. The outline shows what topics are covered, but not the degree of detail within each topic.]

Unit 1: What you can & can’t expect from your memory

This unit is considerably more detailed than the similar unit in the general course, including as it does information on the nature of age-related cognitive decline and the factors that affect it.

1.1: What’s normal

What types of memory failure are normal and common, and which aren’t; what memory failures matter and what don’t. What sort of cognitive aspects change as you age, and which don’t.

1.2: What factors affect your memory

How beliefs and strategy use affect how well you remember and learn. What lifestyle factors and health conditions affect your cognition. How to ameliorate these factors, or work around them.


Unit 2: How memory works

To know what’s going on when memory failures occur, and to use memory strategies effectively — to know when & how to use which strategy — you need some understanding of the principles involved in making them work.

2.1: Basic principles of memory

The basic principles that underlie how memory works, and how they underlie memory failures and memory successes.

2.2: How memories are retrieved

The basic principles underlying retrieval (finding a specific memory). Why tips-of-the-tongue occur, and why they become more common with age. Retrieval strategies.

2.3: How memories are encoded and consolidated

Why encoding is so critical, how it works, and why ‘working memory’ is so vital. How your individual working memory capacity affects learning, understanding, and memory. Why the distinction between verbatim and gist is so important, especially as we get older. Why memory consolidation is particularly an issue for older brains.

2.4: Why perception matters

How perception and cognition are linked. Why sensory impairment (for example, losing clarity of vision, or strength of hearing) is a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia. How you should deal with sensory impairment.


Unit 3: Preparing your mind

3.1: Priming

Why getting yourself in the right mental space helps you make connections more easily.

3.2: Setting & articulating goals

How you can improve your chances of successful encoding by thinking about your specific goals and potential retrieval situations. A special focus on memory for future intentions and events.

3.3: Emotion regulation & attentional control

On how emotions (such as anxiety & stress) can reduce your effective working memory capacity, reducing your chance of encoding well. Why the biggest challenge for older brains is dealing with distraction and irrelevancies. How to deal with it. How to improve your ability to focus.


Unit 4: Selecting what needs to be remembered

4.1: Reducing cognitive load

Why the concept of ‘cognitive load’ is so important. How you can recognize when cognitive load is too high, and how you can reduce it. A special focus on multi-tasking.

4.2: Elaboration

Why elaborating information to remember can actually reduce cognitive load. How to use elaboration to make connections & promote distinctiveness. Verbal mnemonic strategies that can be used for unrelated information or when verbatim memory is required.

4.3: Imagery

How mental imagery and imagination can make connections & promote distinctiveness. Visual mnemonics that can be used when you can’t see any natural connections, or when verbatim memory is required (such as when learning a new language).

4.4: Social interaction

How you can use ‘outsourcing’ to reduce cognitive load, and when it’s a bad idea. Conversational skills that can improve your chances of successful encoding.


Unit 5: Organizing for better recall

More strategies for making connections clear and strong — both within new memory codes, and between new and old information.

5.1: Labeling

Why simple verbal labels can make a big difference to your ability to remember something. How to make good labels.

5.2: Asking questions

How to ask questions that show connections and help you connect new memories to old.

5.3: Making comparisons

How to make comparisons that show connections and help you connect new memories to old.

5.4: Visual organizing

How to create visual outlines to display information, increasing your ability to make and see connections.


Unit 6: How to practice

6.1: Retrieval practice

The best way to practice, why it’s effective, and how it applies in different situations.

6.2: Distributed practice

How to space your retrieval practice for optimal recall.

6.3: Deliberate practice

The best way to practice skills, both for learning new skills and improving old. How to do it effectively.

6.4: Self-monitoring

The importance of monitoring; how to do it effectively; what to watch out for. Using reflection strategies.


Unit 7: Becoming a strategic thinker

7.1: Fighting cognitive decline by becoming a strategic thinker

Why becoming a strategic thinker is so important for fighting cognitive decline and even dementia. What it means to be a strategic thinker.

7.2: Choosing the right strategy

How to assess different memory tasks, in different contexts. What you need to consider when choosing a memory strategy.


Unit 8: Building cognitive reserve

8.1: Fighting cognitive decline by building cognitive reserve

What cognitive reserve is and why building it is so important for fighting cognitive decline and protecting against dementia.

8.2: How to build cognitive reserve

Activities that help build cognitive reserve. A special focus on practicing music, and learning or reviving a foreign language.