Routines are easier to remember when combined with complex "silly" motor tasks

A study by an international team published in the journal Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition finds that when seniors do odd, complex motor tasks while taking medication, it increases the likelihood that they'll remember to take their meds next time. I love this stuff — the idea that thinking takes place in the body as well as the brain — and I bet it works for non-seniors just as well.

"In extended medication-taking situations, the habitual nature of the task may make it difficult for older adults to remember whether or not they took the medication on a particular day, especially if pill boxes are not used," explains Mark McDaniel, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University.

"To remedy this potential problem, older adults could be instructed to take their medication while placing one hand on their head or in some other unusual or silly way, like crossing their arms," he suggests. "Our results indicate that older adults can use these sorts of more complex motor tasks to effectively reduce repetition errors in habitual prospective memory tasks, such as taking a daily medication."…

In another phase of the experiment, participants were asked to do the letter-recognition task while simultaneously carrying out an additional more complicated and distracting task — listening to a series of random numbers and pushing a clicker whenever they heard two odd numbers in a row…

"When ongoing task demands were challenging, older adults committed more repetition errors than younger adults, regardless of whether they'd been told in advance to err on the side of omission — told not to push the F1 key if they had any doubt about whether it had already been pushed once in the same trial," says McDaniel.

However, older adults asked to carry out the more complex motor task (placing hand on head) while pushing the F1 key made significantly less repetition errors than older adults not making use of this memory enhancing technique

A Silly Pat On The Head Helps Seniors Remember Daily Medication