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help with symptoms

3.3 Memory and thinking strategies

Many people with dementia use strategies to help with their memory and thinking.

Forgetting to do things at the right time

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

Suggested strategies: 

  • Use a reminder system. This might be a physical alarm clock, or an alarm on your phone. Sometimes you may not recall what the alarm is for. In this case, you can go to your calendar/diary to find what you need to do at that time. On your phone, the alarm can be labelled with the task or appointment you would like to be reminded about.  
  • Ask someone else to remind you, either in person or by phone. 
  • If you have a smartphone Virtual Assistant such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple’s Siri,  it is easy to set reminders that will sound an alert and verbally tell you what you need to do at a particular time. To set a reminder, simply say to your phone or device “Alexa, set a reminder for me to take my medication at 4pm every day” or “Hey Google, remind me to leave for the doctor at 8:30am on Tuesday”. You can program these yourself, or ask a family member or friend to program them for you. 
  • This video shows how easy it is to set a reminder using an Alexa
  • This video introduces the MyCarer Alexa skill  and shows how it can be used to help a person with dementia stay independent.

Keeping track of appointments

Suggested strategies: 

  • Use a physical planner/calendar. Put it in your pocket or purse and carry it with you. When you make a new appointment, put it straight in your planner/calendar. If you’re making an appointment at a clinic, receptionists are usually happy to write the appointment into your planner, or give you an appointment card with the information on it, which you can add to your planner/calendar when you get home.  
  • Use an electronic planner/calendar on your mobile phone or computer. If you use an electronic planner/calendaryou can ask healthcare providers, friendsor family to email you a calendar invitation for your appointments.  
  • If you are using a mobile phone, some healthcare providers and services allow you to sign up for text message reminders, or phone calls on the day before your appointment. 
  • Have someone help you keep track of appointments. For example, have a friend or family member remind you of upcoming appointments or help manage your calendar. 
  • Use a large calendar or white board. This helps you to see what you have planned for each week or month. You might add weekly tasks to the calendar, like doing laundry, or grocery shopping. Cross off each task or appointment once it has been completed. 
  • Many people find it helpful to have a large display clock with the time, day, month, and year displayed. If you use a whiteboard, place the clock close by. 

Losing things like glasses, phone, keys or walking stick

Suggested strategies: 

  • Have a usual spot for these objects. For example, have a bowl or hook for keys and a spot for the cane near the door so you can find them when you need them.  
  • You might have several usual spots for your phone, keys, and glasses (e.g., the living room mantlepiece, bedside table). Make it a routine to return these items to their usual spot at home if you notice them in the wrong place. People in your household can help with this too.  
  • 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, wallet – check, pocket planner – check). 
  • Use a bright phone cover, or a bright key chain so these are easier to spot if you are looking for them. 

Forgetting to take things I need with me when out

Suggested strategies: 

  • Have a list of things to take on outings 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 or car. 
  • Leave a spare key with neighbours. 
  • 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. 

Managing finances

Suggested strategies: 

  • 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 when you’re no longer able to yourself (see section 5 for more information about power of attorney, but note that depending on where you live, there may be different guidelines). 
  • If you have trouble adding up bills and coins, you can pay using a contactless debit or credit card. 

Forgetting important information

Suggested strategies: 

  • Take notes of important information in a notebook or on your phone. Review these notes prior to an appointment, in a calm and quiet setting, or 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 right away. 

Difficulty making decisions, even about small things

For decisions you have to make regularly, simplify the decision. For example: 

  • If you have trouble deciding what to eat, eat the same thing every day (ideally something healthy), or have the same dinners every week. Make a meal plan for the week with your favourite healthy choices.  
  • If you have trouble choosing which products to use in the shower, clear out your shower and just keep the ones you prefer.
  • 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, makeup or shoes, again, just wear the same thing every day. 
  • Before going grocery shopping, specify the exact number of items and the brand for each item on your list (e.g., 2 packages of Catelli spaghetti). 

I get confused or distracted half-way through a task

Suggested strategies: 

  • Do one thing at a time instead of multitasking and take frequent breaks.  
  • Use a checklist for the task you are working on, and mark off steps as you complete them. For example, when baking, use a pencil and mark off each ingredient as you add it, or each step as you complete it. 
  • Many people find they think best in the morning. If possible, schedule activities where you will need to concentrate and think in the morning. Do more routine or physical jobs in the afternoon and evening. 
  • Accept that some things will take longer and schedule more time if you need it. 

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

Suggested strategies: 

  • Make it easier to see things by reducing visual clutter. For exampleleave one cup, kettle and jar of tea/coffee on the kitchen counter, rather than having many items out. Keep important areas of your house tidy.  
  • Buy important items in bright colours so that they stand out visually (e.g., bright red glasses, a yellow phone case or a blue wallet) 
  • Add a contrasting background colour in important places where you often can’t find things (e.g., put a white mat on your wooden table so that you can more easily see your keys and wallet). 

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 carers and can be downloaded free online.