Memory Loss: Tips and Strategies

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Tips & Strategies

There are some simple strategies for making your memory’s job easier. Everyone is different and won’t need the same tricks. Try them out and use those that work for you and that make your life easier.

  • Don’t bury your head in the sand!
    Instead of grumbling about your forgetfulness, do something about it.
  • Stay focused!
    As you get older, your memory is more easily distracted! When you’re trying to retain something, don’t do two things at the same time! And eliminate anything that might distract you (noises, TV…).
  • Take your time!
    When you park your car, take a moment to find a reference point. Take the time to repeat (preferably out loud) or write down any information you want to remember. Accept that other people may get impatient.
  • Make associations!
    Making associations between things you already know and what you want to remember is a very effective strategy for recalling something later on. For instance, your car mechanic’s first name is Peter, just like your brother. Make summaries of things you have just read. Associate new information with an image or with a sound.
  • Follow a routine!
    Having a routine can make your life easier and reduce stress. Try watering your plants the same day that your favourite TV show is on. Always put your keys and wallet in the same place.
  • Use memory aids!
    Use a day planner to keep track of your appointments, errands, and dates for paying your bills, and consult it regularly. Putting notes on the calendar is also helpful, and post-it notes stuck in strategic places can help keep you stay organized on a day-to-day basis. Using a day planner doesn’t make your memory lazy―your memory isn’t a muscle!
  • Make lists!
    Birthdays, names of people and their relationship to you, to-do items, medical appointments, prescriptions. At the grocery store, divide your list into categories to make sure you don’t forget anything (dairy products, deli food, frozen items, etc.).

Some tricks using mnemonics

Mnemonics is the practice of making word associations so you can retain memorised information more easily. An example of this is how many of us learned to remember directions by using the rhyme “Never Eat Shredded Wheat” as a cue, corresponding to North, East South and West in a clockwise direction. There is no wrong way to do this – only the results count. So try coming up with your own!

Having trouble remembering your PIN?

Try remembering your bank card PIN or alarm system code by associating each number with a word that has the same number of letters. For instance, if your PIN is 1724, you could create a sentence like this: the (1) account (7) is (2) full (4). Or use a sentence like this for your alarm system code (3743): All (3) robbers (7) keep (4) out (3)!

Do you ever get to the grocery store and forget what you went to buy?

To remember your grocery list, try thinking of familiar places and associate with them the items you want to recall. For example, if you need to buy eggs, bread and milk: Imagine that the mirror in your bathroom is covered in broken eggs, that the hallway is carpeted in bread slices and that your bath tub is full of milk. The more peculiar the image associated with the items is, the easier they will be to remember.

Do you have trouble remembering the names of people you meet?

Make associations to help yourself remember new names. Say you’re introduced to Victor Smart, who happens to dress very stylishly, you can remember his name by recalling what a "Smart" dresser he is. With mnemonics, anything’s fair game, it’s the results that matter. Create tricks that work for you!

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We are pleased to house this series of FAQs supervised by Cara Tannenbaum, from the Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal.

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