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Memory and thinking strategies

3.3 Memory and thinking strategies

Many people use strategies to help with their memory and thinking. Here are some strategies that people with dementia use

Forgetting to do things at the right time

For example, appointments, medications, drinking water regularly, eating lunch

  • Use a reminder system that sounds an alarm at the right time – this might be a physical alarm clock, or the alarm on your phone. Sometimes people with dementia can’t remember what the alarm means, so they have to go to their calendar/diary to find what they need to do.
  • Ask someone else to remind you, either in person or by phone.
  • If you have smartphone use Virtual Assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple’s Siri because it’s easy to set reminders which sound an alert which also tell you what you need to do. To set the alarm, you just say to your phone or device “Alexa, set a reminder for me to take my medication at 4pm every day” or “OK Google, remind me to leave for the doctor at 8:30am on Tuesday 22nd May”. When at home, you can also set and get the reminders through a home speaker device connected to those systems (e.g. Amazon Echo, Google Nest, or Apple Homepod). You can program these yourself, or ask a family member to program them for you.
  • This video shows how easy it is to set a reminder using an Alexa.


Keeping track of appointments

  • Use a physical diary. If you are multitasking, have one that you can put in your pocket or handbag and carry with you, then as you make new appointments you can put them straight in your diary. If you’re making an appointment at a clinic, the receptionist will usually be happy to write the appointment into your diary for you.
  • Use an electronic diary which you can see on your mobile phone and computer. If you use an electronic diary, ask professionals and friends to email you a calendar or diary invitation of your appointments.
  • Use a large calendar or white board instead of, or in addition to a physical or electronic diary – this means that you can see what you have planned for each week or month. You might add weekly jobs to the calendar too, like doing the washing, or doing the shopping.
  • Many people find it helpful to have a large display clock with day, date and month displayed. If you use a whiteboard, position the clock close by.
  • If you don’t carry your diary or calendar with you when you’re out, then get an appointment card from the clinic with the time and date written on it as a prompt to write it in your diary when you get home.
  • Have someone keep track of appointments for you, this might mean putting appointments in your diary or calendar and/or reminding you of the appointments you have coming up.
  • Ask your friends to phone you the day before, or the day of the appointment, as a reminder.


Losing things like glasses, phone, keys or walking stick

  • Have a usual spot for these objects. A bowl or hook for keys and a spot for the walking stick near the door so you can drop them when you come in with your hands full. You might have several usual spots for your phone and glasses like on the living room mantelpiece or bedside table.
  • When you’re out, develop a routine of counting the things you need to have with you before leaving (e.g. glasses – check, phone – check, pocket diary – check).
  • Develop a regular routine of putting these objects in their usual spot when you come home. Make it routine to return them to the usual place at home if you notice them in the wrong place.
  • Use a bright phone cover or a bright key chain so these are easier to spot when you’re looking for them.
  • Ask people in your household to return items to their usual places if they notice them elsewhere.
  • You can purchase tracking devices like Tile that can be set up to locate personal items like your phone, wallet/purse, keys etc. They even have small trackers that can be stuck to remotes and other such items. This link takes you to a review article which shows a range of tracking gadgets.


Managing finances

  • Set up, or have someone help you set up automated bill payments.
  • Ask someone you trust or your accountant to go through your bank statements with you each month.
  • Appoint someone you trust with financial enduring power of attorney so they have legal permission to handle your financial matters (see 5.2 Put your life plan into action).
  • If you have trouble adding up notes and coins, such as when checking your change, pay with a contactless credit card.


Forgetting to take things I need with me when going out

  • Have a list of things to take near the front door as a visual reminder.
  • Have a spare key in your handbag, wallet or car. You can also have a spare pair of glasses in your handbag.
  • Leave a spare key with your neighbour(s).
  • If you often go out with someone, ask them to remind you to take your keys or other items as you’re leaving the house.
  • Install a key safe outside your home – set the combination to something you’ll remember.


Forgetting important information

  • Takes notes of important information in a notebook or on your phone. Review these notes when you have time to help the information sink in.
  • Take photos with your smartphone camera as visual reminders. Review these when you have time to help the information sink in.
  • Refer to your notebook or phone if you need to tell someone the information.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t remember.


Difficulty making decisions, even about small things

  • For decisions that you have to make regularly, simplify the decision.
  • If you have trouble choosing what to wear, wear the same thing every day (e.g. jeans, white t-shirt, just buy multiples of the same thing), or have a set outfit for each day of the week.
  • If you have trouble choosing your accessories, or makeup, or shoes, again just wear the same thing every day.
  • If you have trouble deciding what to eat, eat the same thing every day (hopefully it’s healthy), or have the same dinners every week.
  • If you have trouble choosing which product to use in the shower, clear out your shower and just keep the one you prefer.
  • When going grocery shopping, write on the list the exact number of items and the brand (e.g. 2 packets of Barilla spaghetti).


I get confused or distracted half-way through a task

  • Do one thing at a time and take frequent breaks rather than multitask.
  • Many people do things that take a lot of attention during their best time for thinking. If you find that you think best in the morning, schedule things where you need to concentrate or think in the morning. Then do more routine or physical jobs in the afternoon and evening.
  • Accept that some things take longer and schedule more time to do them.


I don’t notice things that are right in front of me

  • Make it easier to see things by reducing visual clutter. For example leave one cup, kettle and jar of tea/coffee on the kitchen bench, rather than having many items out.

  • Keep key areas of your house tidy.
  • Buy important items in bright colours so that they stand out visually (e.g. bright red glasses, or a yellow phone cover, or blue wallet).
  • Add a contrasting background colour in key places where you aren’t noticing things (e.g. put a white mat on your wooden table so that you can more easily see your keys and wallet).

What works for you

Write down and try some strategies from this article that might work for you, or come up with your own strategies.


More strategies and suggestions

For more suggestions on managing when symptoms become hurdles to daily life, you might find the By Us for Us guides useful. These are written by people with dementia and their carers and can be downloaded free online.


Watch this inspirational video

Dementia Australia have shared these videos about people living with dementia on the Living Well with Dementia website: