Dealing with specific memory problems

Some of the most common memory problems are:

This section gives some hints and tips for dealing with these specific memory problems. These are only suggestions to give you an idea and you may think of others that you find more useful.

Remembering to do something

  • Leave things near your outside door before you go out, for example, letters you need to post
  • Programme your watch or mobile phone to sound an alarm at certain times to remind you to do something
  • If possible, do things as soon as you think of them, rather than later on
  • Keep a pen and paper handy at all times
  • Use diaries, wall charts and calendars
  • People often forget if they have done a particular task (such as locking the door). A way to improve this type of memory is to say out loud what you are doing at the time you are doing it.

Remembering people's names

Recording the information

  • Listen carefully
  • If the name is unusual, ask them to spell it
  • Think about whether you like the name or not
  • If you're introduced to several people, make an excuse to repeat back their names, for example "Let me make sure I've got your names right..."
  • Try to use the name as often as possible in your initial conversation, for example "Glad to meet you John". When you say goodbye, repeat the name
  • Repeat the name after a short interval. Most people enjoy hearing their name being spoken
  • If it's an unusual name, alter the way it sounds to make it more meaningful to you
  • Split a long name into shorter words
  • Some names may be easy to pair with a visual image, for example, Mr Butcher
  • Form a link between the person you meet and someone you know with the same name, or a famous personality. Try to find some similarities
  • Keep rehearsing the names you learn every few hours or days
  • Try associating the name with a prominent feature on the person's face

Recalling the name

  • Try not to panic!
  • Think through each letter of the alphabet in turn to see if it triggers your memory for the person's name
  • Think of the situation where you first learned the name, and anything about the situation that you may have linked with the name
  • Say something like "I remember you very well but your name has just slipped my mind for the moment"
  • Greet them and say your own name; they may instinctively repeat theirs. If all else fails, you can often chat without saying their name

Remembering where you have put something

  • Try to be well organised. Spend a little time each day putting things back that you have put out of place. Set specific places for things
  • Make a list of things that you lose quite often and make a special habit to put them back in the right place
  • Stop and think each time you put something away. Concentrate for a few seconds and look at the particular place you put them
  • Find a connection between the object and the place that you are putting it. For example, if you put your keys in a cup, imagine yourself drinking with a large key in your hand rather than a cup. This should help you when you try to remember where you put the key
  • When you park the car, try to park it near the exit or near a ticket machine, and then look at it a few times as you walk away and concentrate on where you left it
  • Once you have put something away try to think of it, and where you have put it, at intervals afterwards. Try to make the intervals a little longer each time

Remembering what people tell you

  • Write the message down. It is useful to do this in an organised, meaningful way. You could make parts of the message stand out by writing in a different colour or underlining
  • Try to think about what you are hearing, for example do you agree or disagree with it?
  • When trying to remember numbers, group them together, for example 2-7-4 could be remembered as two hundred and seventy four. Telephone numbers can be remembered in a similar way. Or try to find a meaning to the number. For example 2-7-4 could be somebody's birthday (27th April) – the 27th of the fourth
  • In the case of a list of things someone has asked you to do or buy, it can be helpful to try and associate items in the list with each other. You could do this by grouping certain items together, depending on a category they belong to or maybe using the first initial of each item to make up a word. So to remember to get bread, eggs, sugar and tea use the word ‘best'. It may also be useful to associate this word with the place that you are going, so you could imagine George Best playing football in the aisles of your local supermarket. More unusual associations are usually more likely to stick in your memory
  • If you have forgotten a message then try to remember details about it, such as who gave it to you, where you were when you got the message and what you were doing at the time. This may jog your memory

Remembering what you are reading

"I struggle to read books or even simple things like a news article as I cannot remember what I've read."

  • In general, it is useful to try and group the material that you are reading into subheadings and then go over the subheadings each time you read the material
  • Use a highlighter pen to colour important sentences
  • Test your recall about the information you have just read and repeat this at certain intervals
  • Read through the material again and concentrate on the information you have forgotten
  • The PQRST method can be used to help you remember information that you are reading
    • Preview
      Skim through the information to get a general idea about what is being said
    • Question
      Decide upon questions you want to be able to answer once you have read the information and write them down
    • Review
      Re-read the information
    • State
      Sum up the most important points
    • Test
      Test yourself by seeing if you can answer the questions that you set for yourself earlier

Remembering how to get somewhere

  • Plan your journey and use a clear map or directions. Decide if you are happier with a map or written instructions
  • Make a note of any landmarks you will be passing on the way
  • If you get lost don't panic. Try to go back through your directions and spot where you have gone wrong
  • Take a telephone number of someone who could help you should you get lost, and remember you can always ask someone in the area for help

Our thanks

This information has been adapted from the booklet Memory and epilepsy, produced by Epilepsy Action and written by Professor Gus Baker and colleagues at the University of Liverpool. It has been updated by Epilepsy Action’s advice and information team, with input from people living with epilepsy.

This information has been produced under the terms of Epilepsy Action's information quality standards.

  • Updated August 2018
    To be reviewed August 2021

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