It can be very frustrating if your life is being negatively impacted by your memory loss and someone (often a friend, provider, or relative) who doesn’t truly understand your experience says, “Oh, I forget things too…”
You may hear some people say that everyone has memory loss, especially as we get older. To some extent that is a true statement. We all have moments where we walk into a room and forget what we walked in there for, or forget where we laid the keys down at. However, here is where it differs. Memory loss as a result of a disease process, injury, or due to the use of certain medications is different than the memory loss we experience as part of the natural aging experience.
Several conditions, other than aging can cause significant memory loss. Some of these may be reversible with treatment. Some are permanent, even after treatment. Regardless of whether reversible or permanent, if it is effecting your life in a negative way, or robbing your quality of life, you may find some of the tips below to be helpful in helping you manage the memory loss you or a loved one may be experiencing
Some examples of memory loss that are not included in the natural aging process are the following:
- Brain injuries – traumatic or acquired (such as blunt force trauma, accident, encephalopathy, falls, blood clots, stroke, transient ischemic attack, aneurysm, medications, drugs, etc)
- Result of brain surgery (all surgeries carry risk, especially surgeries involving the brain – examples may include shunts, removal of diseased tissue or tumors, repairing bleeds, repairing puncture or crushed wounds, etc)
- Brain Diseases (like a tumor, hydrocephalus – fluid in brain, or other rare disorders) and other Diseases (like Huntington’s, Muscular Dystrophy, Parkinson’s Disease)
- Infections of the brain – such as syphillis, HIV/AIDS, Lyme Disease, other viruses
- Vitamin B1 or B12 deficiency – good nutrition is imperative for brain health
- Hypothyroidism ( a common secondary condition that can be acquired after head injury and often undertreated; some can be hereditary and if left untreated can exacerbate symptoms)
- Kidney or Liver disorders
- Dementia/Alzheimer’s (may be acquired secondary to brain injury, inherited, or from other unknown processes)
- Emotional Disorders – stress, anxiety or depression can cause forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating and other problems that interrupt the ability to function in daily life)
- Alcoholism, smoking, or drug use
- Sleep Deprivation – quantity and quality of sleep affect our memory processing
Here are 12 ways that may help you manage your memory loss in a more functional way, helping to maintain as much dignity and independence as possible.
- Make a memory board (with important names and frequently used phone numbers). Hang somewhere visible, so it can be seen and utilized daily. Update the same day weekly or as schedules change.
- Create a life story book, photo album or something digital that is labeled to help identify who and what is important to remember (people, places, experiences). Get assistance to from someone you trust (such as a family member or professional) to do this. This can include pictures, question and answer format, or whatever works for your particular needs. This serves as a dual purpose as well, as it can also be used by professionals or caregivers to understand more about you as well.
- Cognitive stimulation. This involves activities and exercises that stimulate thinking, concentration, communication and memory. Utilizing brain exercise sites such as Lumosity , Constant Therapy, and CogniFit Brain Training; play strategy games (like cards, checkers, chess, crossword puzzles, word finds, puzzles); coloring, drawing, or listening to different types of music.
- Utilize a reminder system (this may include calendar, white boards, chart on the wall). It could be color coded as well (so a different color for each person or different color for each appointment on schedule – just make sure you use same color each time you do the schedule). Using A Planner or a Calendar App? – write down things right away – without exception. Always keep the planner with you wherever you go. If you get a call about an appointment, write it down IN THE PLANNER. If something changes in the schedule, write it down IN THE PLANNER. Label cupboards and storage containers as a reminder of where things are kept; label doors as a reminder of which room is which.
- LISTS are your friends and great reminders (note: if you have trouble writing, use a voice recorder or dictaphone to make lists). Consider making permanent signs – even having them laminated, to remind you of things you need to do regularly (for example – sign by the sink reminding you to wash your hands before cooking or before leaving the bathroom). Make a list for things you are running out of and leave attached to the refrigerator door (this is a great way to make a grocery list you take to the store with you). Make a list of what bills are due on what days and how much each bill is that is due, along with how it is paid. Make a list of daily tasks that need accomplished. Make (or have someone make) a checklist to hang by the front door that includes what you need when you leave (for example: purse/wallet, phone, phone charger, planner, meds, bottle of water, keys, sunglasses, ear plugs, jacket, etc). Use the checklist EVERY TIME before you walk out the door. This reduces chances of forgetting things.
- Use post-it/sticky notes. You can use them anywhere in your home or personal workspace to remind you to do specific tasks (such as a sticky on a library book that has to be returned by a certain date, or start load of laundry today, etc).Once you have completed the task, it’s important to throw the post-it/sticky note away. This way you won’t accidentally redo what you already finished.
- Use a mobile smartphone (cell phone). Many mobile phones have a built-in voice recorder. Use this to record information that you need to remember or add items to your virtual calendar. You could also leave recorded notes, play it back later, or review those notes at the same time each day. Also cell phones are great resources for text reminders, checking emails, and having access to a GPS (such as Google maps) to utilize to keep from getting lost. Use your phone to take picture of your whiteboard schedule that week so when you leave home you can look at the picture even if you aren’t at home to see it. Use an app to record incoming/outgoing phone calls (check your State or Country laws first though, about recording these in your particular location).
- Medicine/Pill reminder box. This will help you see whether you have taken your medications for that day (this helps to prevent taking your medications more than once). Some models have am/pm, and other times of the day; some can be set to remind you when to take your pills, with an alarm, vibration or flashing light.
- Use an alarm clock, a watch with an alarm, or a kitchen timer to remind you when you need to leave the house for an appointment, or when you have to check something cooking in the oven. Write down why you have set the alarm – so you know why it is going off. (I cannot tell you the number of times I have had an alarm going off and then sat there wondering why I set it. So notes are very helpful – put by the alarm)
- Never leave the room when you are cooking. You may forget what you were doing and this increases risk of burning your food, burning up a pan, or causing a fire. Never leave the room when water is running in a sink or bathtub. You may forget about it and cause a flood.
- Appointments and Meetings. In advance, make a detailed list of what you want to say, questions you have, agenda for meeting, etc. If you are going to a medical appointment, bring a pre-typed list to leave with the provider of all other providers/specialists (make sure this includes their addresses, phone numbers or contact information), all medications and their dosages (remember to list any herbs, supplements taking), and list of concerns. Record meetings or appointments to go back and listen to later and take notes from the recording.
- Don’t procrastinate. Whenever possible, doing things when they’re on your mind rather than later so you don’t have to worry about forgetting them. Try to utilize the same routine every day as much as possible. Routine reduces chances of forgetting.