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Health and wellbeing series - how to compensate for memory loss

Published Wednesday 30 January 2019
  • Aged Care

As we get older, one of the most common changes we experience is reduced memory. This is due to changes occurring in the brain, and it can be very frustrating. One of the main symptoms of dementia is memory loss, but becoming forgetful with age does not mean you have dementia. If you are worried about your memory problems it is wise to see your doctor, as some medical conditions can cause memory loss. In the meantime, there are a number of tips and tricks you can use to help compensate for reduced memory.


Write down important dates such as birthdays, medical appointments and planned social outings. Keep the calendar or diary in a place where you will see it frequently, such as beside the telephone or on the kitchen wall. Get into the habit of checking the calendar or diary, e.g. when you wake up in the morning or at meal times. It also helps to cross the days off before you go to bed.


A noticeboard or notebook could also be used to write down ‘to do’ tasks that need to be done, as well as the specific order. Again, keep this somewhere you will see it every day, and cross off tasks as you complete them.


Write down a few notes in a daily journal to remind you what you have done and how you felt. You can stick photos or mementos in the journal, such as movie tickets and meal receipts.


A dosette box has compartments for the days of the week to help you remember to take your pills. Your pharmacist can also help you by packaging your medications in a Webster or blister pack.


There’s a range of electronic aids that can help jog your memory. Simple devices such as alarm clocks or kitchen timers can be set to remind you when to leave the house or to check something cooking in the oven. There are more complex electronic aids, such as mobile phone reminders and calendars, and even smartphone / tablet apps.


The above ideas are examples of ‘external’ memory aids. You can also learn to use ‘internal’ memory strategies such as:

Association:  This is a way of relating what you want to learn with something you already know. For example, if you are trying to remember a lady called Holly Smith, you may think of the holly plant at Christmas time to help jog your memory. Or you may think of another person called Holly you know. Another way is to think of rhyming words such as Jolly Holly.

Repetition / rote learning:  Try to learn something that isn’t meaningful by repeating it over and over, such as a name or phone number. This helps to encode or store the memory in the brain so you have a better chance of retrieving it later.

Categorisation / ‘chunking’: Group large pieces of information into small categories or chunks. For example, instead of having a long shopping list, break it down into categories such as ‘fruit and veg’, ‘meat’, ‘cleaning products’, etc.

Mental imagery / visualisation: This technique refers to forming a visual image in your mind so you are more likely to remember something. For instance, when you meet a new person you might visualise a prominent feature they may have, such as long curly hair or a large nose. If you exaggerate this picture in your mind you may find it easier to remember them. Another example is rehearsing in your mind your morning routine. Break down each step and picture yourself doing it, including where you are and how it feels.

If you would like to learn more about ways to compensate for memory problems, ask for a referral to see an occupational therapist.


The health and wellbeing series is brought to you by WMQ's allied health team.

We offer allied health services to both residential aged care residents and to the wider community through our therapy centres. To find out more about the services we can offer you, visit our therapy, respite and wellness webpage or phone us on 1800 448 448 or email: