The newsletter of the Memory Disorders Project at Rutgers University

Suppose you've run out of milk, and you decide to make a quick trip to the grocery store. On the way there, you think of several more things you need. You reach the store, spot a few bargains, and fill your cart. Then you return home, and realize that you forgot to buy the milk you needed in the first place.

There's a simple and effective way to avoid this kind of memory lapse: give your brain a break, and make a shopping list.

On any given day, dozens of things compete for your attention and your memory capacity. Sometimes the smaller details simply get crowded out. The result is often minor forgetfulness. In many cases, the problem is just an overtaxed memory.

Your shopping list will do your remembering for you, and free you up to focus on other things. But relying on lists does not mean you have become "over the hill." As evidence that the details of modern life have exceeded the memory skills of many people, young and old, consider the explosion in popularity of palm-sized computers called personal digital assistants. Without these memory aids, many of the most competent, accomplished people in the world would regularly run out of milk and forget to pick up their dry cleaning.

But you don’t need a computer to boost your memory abilities. All you need is a notepad, or a small notebook. Next time you're planning a quick trip to the store, take a few moments to jot down a list of the items you need while it's still fresh in your mind. Later, you won't come home without the milk. Of course, you still have to remember to take the list with you!