Mnemonics, Your Memory Sidekick

By American Geriatrics Society (AGS), Health in Aging Foundation

You’ve probably heard of mnemonics (nee-mon-iks). Mnemonics are memory devices, such as a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations that help you retain information in ways that you can more easily remember. These devices are cues or links to other information — almost like the hyperlinks you click when surfing the Internet. Click a link, and another page pops up on your screen.

For example, in the spring and fall, people in certain time zones change their clocks by one hour due to the beginning or end of daylight saving time. The simple mnemonic “spring forward, fall back” helps people remember to set their clocks an hour forward in the spring and back in the fall. Because the verb spring implies upward or forward movement and the verb fall implies backward movement, this catchy phrase is an excellent mnemonic. (Of course, nowadays many clocks automatically adjust for daylight saving time, but the mnemonic still helps you to know what’s happening.)

To use a mnemonic, all you have to do is

  • Decide what you want to remember.
  • Match what you want to remember with an image or word cue.
  • Refer to the cue to recall your memory.

Think of mnemonics as a way for you to organize information so you can later recall it more easily. The word mnemonic means “aiding memory.” You can structure or package your memories so they’re easily available to you. A mnemonic is like the beginning strand of a ball of yarn. When you pull it, a whole string of memories unfolds.

Mnemonics allow you to translate information into a form that’s easier for you to remember. They’re successful memory aids because your brain prefers to remember personal, silly, and logical things you can relate to rather than dry factual information and data. By associating the new factual information you need to remember with relatable personal things you already know, you’re able to remember them more effectively and in context. Mnemonics let you associate new information with a more familiar framework to enable you remember.