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3.4 Strategies to help with memory and thinking difficulties

Memory aids can be very helpful for people with dementia.

Memory aids

Memory aids include simple things which many of you already use. Shopping lists, diaries, calendars, and electronic reminders are all memory aids that people use on a daily basis. In this section we provide a list of common problems faced by people with dementia and useful memory aids to help solve those problems.

However, people with dementia often forget to use the memory aids that are available to them. You can help by making memory aids highly visible,

  • For example a large calendar on the fridge, a whiteboard in the kitchen with important information on it, or an eye-level sign on the back of the front door asking, Do you have your house keys?”.


Memory aids also need a consistent system to encourage their use and become a habit. You will usually need to prompt their use in the beginning.


  • For example, 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 each time. After a few weeks, Ted started to look at the calendar for information. Effective use of memory aids takes time and repetition. Despite dementia making it harder to learn new things, people with dementia can still develop new habits.  

Other strategies

Below are common memory and thinking difficulties for people with dementia, along with ideas that care partners have told us can be helpful.  

Forgetting to do things at the right time

  • Planners and alarms can be helpful, but people with dementia often need additional reminders to check their planner or remember what an alarm is reminding them of. 
  • If you have a smartphone, use Virtual Assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple’s Siri to set reminders. These sound an alert and tell you what you need to do. To set a reminder, just say to your (or the person with dementia’s) phone or other smart device “Alexa, set a reminder to take medication at 4pm every day” or “Hey Google, remind me to leave for the doctor at 8:30am on Tuesday May 22nd” 
  • This video shows how to set a reminder using an Alexa device. 

Losing items

  • Establish a place in the house for important items and help the person with dementia develop habits to remember where these items are kept. For items like keys, sunglasses or a phone, wallet or walking stick, find a ‘home’ for each item and remind the person of this home until it becomes a habit to place items there. You may already have a ‘home’ for some items. For example, a basket near the front door with the labels “Glasses”, “Keys”, “Wallet” can remind people of what goes where.   
  • Have a list of things to take on outings near the front door as a visual reminder.  
  • 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. If the item is connected to the internet, you can program it to make a sound and alert somebody to its whereabouts. If you share an account with family members, they can locate the item for you. Visit the following link for more information on how to locate a missing device.
  • There are small, electronic tags that can be attached to items to determine their location. These tags range in price. This link takes you to a review of a range of tags. 
  • Another option is to use bright coloured key rings or phone cases that stand out from their surroundings, making them easier to find.  

Back up plans for important items

It is not uncommon for things to get misplaced. It can be very stressful and sometimes expensive to constantly look for or replace missing items. Here are some suggestions:  

  • Have spares. Spare keys, spare glasses, spare medication, spare hearing aids, and so on. Consider installing a lock box outside your home and set the combination to something you will remember easily.  
  • Make copies of the contents of your wallet or purse. Photocopy or photograph the front and back of all your cards and store this copy in a safe place. If a wallet goes missing, these copies will make the job of notifying banks and other institutions a great deal easier.  
  • Make copies of important documents such as wills, power of attorney, mortgage, and insurance documents. These can be scanned and stored securely online and  you may consider keeping physical copies in a secure location.  
  • Use a password manager. Almost everything requires a password in our increasingly online world. If you do not have one already, consider getting a password manager, which is a secure piece of software where you can store all your passwords. Make sure that passwords to computers, tablets, and phones are stored in secure places.   

Try strategies to help with life

  • Read this article again, and write down some strategies that you think might be helpful for you and the person with dementia. 
  • Print this article by clicking the button below, and highlight some strategies that you want to try.