Memory man

David Richardson
Today Tonight

"It's actually quite easy. The difficulty is recalling them because after a month or so the memory of it starts to dip down and what you realise is you have to go back and revise them. So you can remember and it sticks in your head," Tansel said.

To show how easy it is, Tansel memorised more than 2000 ads out of the yellow pages. It's his practice session for the upcoming world memory championships.

"I had to memorise 18,000 odd numbers plus 2,000 business names. So there's 20,000 odd things I had to remember inside my head and I had to do that by visualisation and association."

So Today Tonight put Tansel to the test, with ads and numbers chosen at random.

He got nine out of ten but Tansel, an everyday office worker, believes anybody can build a mega-memory.

"If you use images, sights, sounds, senses are quite good, then you'll be able to remember a lot more effectively. Also play some sort of games. Do puzzles, keep your mind occupied intellectually so do a lot of reading and finally I'd say exercise, a healthy body, healthy mind."

Memory is one of the first things to go when we suffer dementia or Alzheimer’s, illnesses with no cure. For years, experts have been suggesting brain games like crosswords and scrabble to ward off these terrible mental diseases.

Now pills promising to jump start the brain, slow the slide to dementia, fill the shelves of health shops across the country.

Fish oil supplements like Omega-3, the herbs brahmi and ginkho are all hailed as wonders for the mind.

Doctor Mark Donohe is a specialist in nutritional medicine and one of the country's most experienced practitioners in integrated medicine, alternate therapies with old style science.

"I don't think supplements create those brilliant memories you're born with or you're not - what they can do is stop you ruining your potential so they allow you to get closer to your potential," Dr Donohe said.

"The trials in adults show that agents like brahmi and ginkho and ginseng are the agents that make a bit of a difference. And caffeine, straight old coffee, makes a great difference to short term memory," Dr Donohe said.

Behavioural Neurologist professor David Darby is from Melbourne University's Centre for Neuroscience, an expert on memory. He believes you've either got it or you don't.

"Unfortunately, at the moment there is no scientific evidence or medical evidence that any of these products prevent or decrease the rate of cognitive decline or prevent Alzheimers. However, there is evidence that some of these in some people can have some stimulating effects in particular on the ability to concentrate," Professor Darby said.

"The memory systems are in the temporal lobe deep within it and the main structure here is the hippocampus. But there's a connected loop of structures including the thalmus and front lobe also important for memory."

"In theory, in a healthy person with enough motivation and time they could do a good job at learning a large task like the yellow pages or several packs of cards for example but in general I doubt everybody could do it. So he does have a gift of some sort," Darby said.

So according to the experts, Tansel Ali's skill comes through hard work and natural aptitude, but he's sure anyone can do it.

"I entered a memory competition thinking I'd probably come last but ended up breaking a few memory records and slowly getting up to Australian memory champion. It's something that anyone can do," Tansel said.