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Strategies to help with memory and thinking difficulties

3.4 Strategies to help with memory and thinking difficulties

Dementia makes it harder to learn new things but people with dementia can develop new habits

Memory aids

Memory aids are the simplest of strategies, many of which you will already use. Shopping lists, diaries, calendars and electronic reminders are all memory aids most of us use every day. On this page we provide lists of common problems and useful memory aids. However, for people with dementia the issue is often to remember to use the memory aid. You can help by making the memory aid highly visible, for example a large calendar on the fridge, a whiteboard in the kitchen with important information or a sign at eye height on the back of the front door asking, “Have you got your house keys?”

Memory aids also need a consistent system to encourage their use and become a habit. To start you will usually need to prompt their use.

  • Vera’s husband used to ask her many times “What are we doing today?” Rather than responding with the day’s activities, Vera directed him to the calendar. After some weeks Ted started to look at the calendar for information.

Making memory aids effective takes time and many repetitions. Despite dementia making it harder to learn new things, people with dementia will develop new habits.

Other strategies

Below are strategies carers have found useful to deal with common difficulties with memory and thinking.


Forgetting to do things at the right time

  • Paper and pencil diaries, alarms on the phone or an alarm clock can work, but more frequently people with dementia won’t remember to consult the diary or recall what the alarm is reminding them of.
  • If you have a 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).
  • This video shows how easy it is to set a reminder using an Alexa.


Finding lost items, remembering to take items with you

  • Set up a place for everything and help the person develop habits to use the place. For items like keys, sunglasses, phone, wallet, walking stick and so on have a place to keep them and provide reminders until it becomes a habit to place items in their ‘home’. A basket near the front door with labels “Glasses” “Keys” “Wallet” provides a reminder of what goes where. For mobile phones, select one or two places in the home and place a charger there. Work on developing a habit of leaving the phone plugged in at that spot.
  • Technology companies provide ways of tracking items such a lost mobile phone, watch or tablet. For example, Apple has a “Find My” app to locate missing items. You can use this app to locate items on a map, or send a message to the item to display a message on the lost item’s screen giving a phone number for the finder to call. You can program the item to make a sound if it is connected to the internet. If you share accounts with other family members, other members of your family can help to locate the item. Visit Apple for an example of what is possible.
  • There are small tags that can be attached to individual items, including hat, coats and walking sticks. Tags range from inexpensive and simple, to sophisticated devices. One brand of tag can even be programmed to alert you if you move more than a specified distance away from your belongings. This link takes you to a review article which shows a range of tags.
  • Even simpler, use bright coloured key rings, phone cases and so on that stand out from their surroundings and are easy to find – even in a large handbag.


Make sure you have back-up plans in place early

  • Things get misplaced or put in a ‘safe place’. (We all do this from time-to-time!) This can be very stressful, wearing and sometimes expensive for a carer to chase up or replace misplaced items.
  • Have spares. Spare keys, spare glasses, spare medication, spare hearing aids and so on. Consider installing a key safe outside your home and set the combination to something you remember easily.
  • Make copies of the contents of your wallets or purses. Take everything out of your wallet (and the wallet for the person you support). Photocopy or photograph all your cards, front and back. Store this copy in a safe place. If your wallet go missing it makes the job of notifying banks and other institutions a great deal easier.
  • Make copies of important documents. Wills, Powers of Attorney, mortgage and insurance documents and so on. These can be scanned and stored securely online or consider keeping copies off site in a secure location.
  • Password management. In our increasingly online world almost everything requires a password. If you do not have one already consider getting a password manager, which is a secure piece of software where you can store all passwords. Make sure passwords to computers, tablets and phones are also stored in very secure places.

Try strategies to help with life

  • Re-read this page and write down some strategies that you think might be helpful to use.
  • Find out how others have addressed issues with memory and thinking and give these a try.

Watch this inspirational video

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