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Issue 94, September 2006

Tips To Improve Memory

By Sandra L. Funk, Director, Manitoba Resource Centre

This is adapted from an article that appeared in "Horizon"

Memory is the ability to learn and remember information.

The severity of memory difficulties will vary from person to person. Some individuals will have only slight difficulties with memory while others may have severe impairment.

Strategies For Learning New Information:

1) Break complex information into simple steps.
2) Write the steps down.
3) Practice the steps. Repetition is very important.
4) Allow ample time for the learning of new information - don't rush.

Strategies For Retrieving Information:
1) Organizational Tools - make accessing information easier. Where memory is weak, try substituting organization.

  • Family Calendars - Place a large monthly wall or desk calendar in a central location in your home. Use this to organize all the events in that month. Let other family members write in their schedules. This becomes a central source of information for everyone in the family. If kept by the phone appointments can be immediately written into calendar.

  • Daily Planner - Use a daily planner, and take it with you everywhere. Transfer information from the family calendar into your day planner. Try to get one with an address book and lots of space for notes. Put the "to-do" list for those activities that need to be done outside of home in this planner. It may also be helpful to have a section with several blank pages to write anything that you need to remember but are likely to forget, e.g. driving directions.

  • Generic Grocery List - Develop a list of grocery items you buy regularly. Make copies of it and check off items you need before you go shopping

  • Daily Routine List - Place list in plastic cover on a clipboard with a wipeable marker attached. Once task is done, tick it off. Erase ticks at end of day. Keep in a central location.

  • To-do lists - Add other tasks to an empty space at the bottom of the daily routine list, or have a separate list. Using a white erasable board in a central location is another option.

  • Notebook at the Telephone - Keep a spiral notebook at the telephone you use most regularly. The purpose is to decrease the number of pieces of paper you have floating around.

  • Write Things Down - Get into the habit of writing lots of notes. Just writing it down can help you remember even if you never look at your notes.

  • A Place for Everything - Assign a particular place for storing frequently used items, such as car keys. Encourage family members to return borrowed objects to their proper spots

2) Prospective Memory Devices - alert you to do things in the future.

  • Timers for meal preparation

  • Auto shut-off kettles

  • Clip-on Timer (that looks like a pager) - This will help you remember things you need to do during the day. Or use an alarm wristwatch.

  • Weekly Pill Organizer - This will not only help you remember to take pills at a certain time but will also let you know what pills you've already taken.

  • 3) Environmental Clues - change the physical surroundings to remind you of things.

  • Post Notes to Yourself- Make notes you post to yourself (as reminders) large enough so that you won't miss them. Over time, small notes will start to blend in and eventually will be ignored

  • Signs Around the House - to serve as retrieval aids (e.g. labels on cupboards to remind you what's in it).

Not all tools work for all people, so it's important to find what works best for you. Also, none will be effective if they aren't used on a regular basis. It is important to practice, practice, practice and make these memory management techniques a habit.

Other Strategies: Work on your focus and concentration - sometimes we forget things because we never really learned them. Frequently we only half pay attention. Improving concentration can enhance recall.

  • Exercise your mind - read, play card games or do puzzles, volunteer, interact with people. "If you don't use it, you lose it."

  • Exercise your body - stay active. Exercise helps your mood, helps you sleep better, and you are more alert.

  • Eat healthy - choose a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Drink 6-8 glasses of water daily.

  • Avoid alcohol & drugs - they dull the brain.

  • When you encounter word-finding problems, don't persist in trying to think of that elusive word. Try to shift your attention to something else. The word you want will come back to you later.

Memory aids like word or picture associations, may help. For example, if you want to remember a name, think of a word that describes the person and is associated with their name. Or try using mental pictures to aid memory. For example, to increase the likelihood that you will remember to close the windows before leaving the house, visualize a great deluge of muddy water flooding into every room through the open windows. Hold onto that image for a few moments and you are more likely to remember to close windows later.

This paper was developed as a handout for the Manitoba Huntington Disease Resource Centre's Information/Support Group session, 27 May 2003. Information was gathered from the following sources: "Understanding Behavioural Changes in HD: The Neuropsychology of HD & Strategies For Intervention" by Jane S. Paulsen & Dawn Stell-Fernandes, "Jiggling Your Memory" by Laurie Paine Stoneham, and "Tips to Improve Your Memory" a brochure by The Anne Ross Heath Resource Centre

Acknowledgement: "Horizon" Huntington Society of Canada Issue No. 119 Spring 2006

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