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Hints and tips for coping with memory problems

Various methods can be used to help improve your memory. You might use just one method, or two or more together. It is likely to take some time to get used to using the various methods. There may be some ‘trial and error’, until you find the methods that work for you. However, experience has shown that, once you have got used to using them, these methods can work very well. Some of these methods are:

Following a set routine

Following a routine is one of the most important things you can do to improve your memory. Having a routine means you can get used to what to expect, which helps reduce the demands placed on your memory. A lot of people find it useful to make a note of their regular activities in their diary or on the calendar. Also, always doing things at certain times of the day, for example always taking your medicines with breakfast can help some people.

Adapting your surroundings

By making changes to your surroundings you will have less need to use your memory. This can be achieved in a number of ways:

  • Keeping a note pad by the phone to take messages
  • Using a notice board for important information
  • Having a particular place to keep things, such as keys and glasses, and always putting them in the same place
  • Labelling cupboards to remind you what goes in them

Using memory aids

There is a wide range of external memory aids and the most important thing is to choose something that you feel comfortable with. What suits one person may not necessarily suit another. For example, pictures or diagrams may be more useful for people who find reading difficult.

Possible memory aids

  • Diary/calendar    
  • Digital voice recorder or tape recorder
  • Notebook    
  • Lists, for example shopping lists 
  • Alarm clock or timer   
  • Pill reminder box for medicines
  • Mobile phone with alarm
  • Smartphone apps
  • Post-It notes
  • Wall chart or wipe clean memo board 
  • Photo album or memory book

"I have a notebook with different sections, with lists of various things I’m doing or need to buy, and have a daily ‘things to do’ list."

Mnemonics

A mnemonic is a verbal or visual aid which helps us to remember information, usually in the form of sayings, rhymes or pictures. For example to remember the colours of the rainbow some people use the rhyme:

Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain
Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet

Some people find visually pairing items can be useful. One such method is known as the peg method. ‘Pegs’ are used to help you to remember a list of items. Each number is given a rhyming visual cue – ‘one - bun, two - shoe, three - tree, four - door and so on. Using this method you would visualise the first thing you want to remember and associate it with a bun. Other people try to remember information in the form of a story they have made up. These are only suggestions of methods you could use. Often the best thing is to be imaginative and make up ones that are personally relevant and work for you.

"When trying to revise I would really struggle, but I found that associating things with stories and pictures would help. I try using mnemonics to help me remember and write loads of things down."

Improving wellbeing

Your emotional wellbeing can have a big impact on your memory. If you feel stressed, anxious or depressed, you may find it harder to concentrate or think clearly. Or you might pay less attention to what is going on around you. This makes it harder for you to remember things later. So taking steps to improve your wellbeing can help. We have more information about wellbeing.

Read our tips for dealing with specific memory problems.

Code: 
B099.03

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. Download the Memory and epilepsy booklet.

This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.

  • Updated November 2015
    To be reviewed August 2018

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