Working memory. What does that mean beyond your initial thought, “Um. Yeah. My memory isn’t working anymore.” At least that was my initial thought when I read the term. Working memory is actually what allows you to keep track of several things at the same time. The classic example would be that of a juggler managing a ball, a flame, and a knife in the air all at once.

As we age, or for those of us who develop degenerative brain diseases, keeping more than a couple things in our minds at the same time can be problematic. Don’t get too discouraged just yet; working memory is something that can be improved with effort. If we spend all this time exercising our bodies, shouldn’t we expend a little bit of effort each week to exercise our brains? Here’s a puzzle that can help improve your short-term and long-term memory.

Working Memory Puzzle

Memorize one of the lists below. Don’t rush, take a few minutes and memorize it.

Colors Names States Words
Red John Florida Match
Orange Elizabeth Utah Picture
Goldenrod Carol California Ace
Green Daniel Hawaii Upstairs
Blue Shirley Mississippi Base
Crimson Bob Texas Expert


When you feel comfortable, try these things without looking:

  1. Recite the list from memory, and then check yourself.
  2. Recite the list backward, and then check yourself.
  3. Recite the list in alphabetical order, and then check yourself.
  4. Recite the list from shortest to longest (by letter number), then check yourself.

That should keep you going for the next four weeks. Eager for more working memory exercises? Recite the states from west to east or the capitals of each state from north to south. Remember those multiplication tables from grade school? Try starting with 0x0 and work on reciting them in your mind until you get to 9×9, then move on to addition or subtraction. That should keep you busy for the next three months!

Keep in mind the way in which long-term memory fades; when we stop recalling events like someone’s birthday or the funny story from a vacation, the neurons in the brain circuits that first formed those memories aren’t being exercised. If we keep reciting important dates or funny stories, we are exercising those neurons, making them easier to recall when we need them. Therefore, to boost your long-term memory, try pouring over the details of old memories or making lists of new things like your loved ones’ phone numbers or birthdays. Use whatever methods necessary to memorize and recite them; make up stories with the numbers or take mental pictures with the dates. All of this work is in an effort to exercise that noggin of yours so you can stop feeling like your memory isn’t working anymore! Remember: the more we learn and experience, the more circuits we form in our brains – which equates to more functional power.

Information and puzzle

Carrie Robertson
Research & Community Education

Chicago Skilled Nursing
Chicago Senior Living

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