Coping with memory problems

Read about how to understand your memory problems and your feelings about them, and how to live well with memory problems.

What are common memory problems?

Memory problems vary from person to person. What you consider to be a problem depends partly on what you need or expect to be able to do.

Some very common memory problems include:

  • forgetting people’s names
  • struggling to remember day-to-day events or experiences
  • misplacing items (such as keys or glasses) around the house
  • getting lost in a familiar place or on a familiar journey
  • finding it hard to start or follow conversations
  • forgetting appointments or important dates (such as birthdays)
  • struggling with the steps in a recipe.

Memory problems and your feelings

Everyone reacts differently to memory problems. It’s normal to get frustrated, worried, or lose self-confidence.

You may find the following tips helpful.

  • Talk to others, such as friends, family or other people experiencing memory problems. They might have some helpful suggestions, and you may be able to find solutions together.
  • Do the things that you’re comfortable with.
  • Start with the memory problems that are having the most impact on your life. For example, regularly misplacing items like a mobile phone or keys.
  • Try to focus on the things you can remember and can do. You may well have a good memory of events from many years ago. There will still be many things you are able to do that you learned in the past.

Coping with your memory problems

Many people find the following approaches helpful. It’s a good idea to try out different approaches and discover which ones work best for you.

Build on the skills you still have

You will still have skills even if you have memory problems. For example, if you’ve always been an organiser and good at planning, make the most of this when facing new challenges.

Stay in a regular routine

Set up a regular daily routine. This will make it easier to remember what will happen over the course of the day. Include time to relax as part of the routine. Keep some variety and stimulation, such as meeting up with a friend or going out to the shops, so you don’t get bored.

Try to manage your time

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you find something more difficult than you used to. You could take some time out and come back to it again later, or think about different ways to manage the task. You could make a note to finish the task as a reminder to yourself later on.

Try to do the most challenging things at the time of day when you have the most energy and can concentrate best. Avoid them if you feel tired, anxious, or unwell. Take your time.

Talk about your day

If you’ve been out for the day, talk to your partner, or a friend or family member afterwards about it. This is a good way of remembering and feeling positive about what you’ve done that day.

Plan ahead

Plan ahead to make your daily tasks more manageable. For example, put the things you’ll need for the next day near the front door. You could put out your bag, your keys, and your wallet or purse. This will help you to remember to take these items with you.

Do one thing at a time

Try to do only one thing at a time. For example, if you’re making a cup of tea, don’t make a phone call at the same time. For a new task, repeat it and give yourself time to learn it.

Take small steps

Break tasks down into smaller steps. Then you can focus on just one step at a time. For example, if you’re wet-shaving or washing your hair, set out the things you need in order then put each one aside once you’ve used it. Ask for help from others if you think you need it.

Keep one place for everything you need

Try to keep important items such as your keys, glasses, purse or wallet in the same place. This could be a large bowl somewhere obvious and visible (for example, by the telephone, near the front door, or on the coffee table). Then you can always find them easily.

Simplify the layout of your home

Try to keep the layout of your home familiar so that you know where things are. Consider labelling drawers and cupboards with words or pictures of what’s inside them. Remove any clutter or unnecessary items.

Reduce distractions

If your environment is noisy or very busy, you will find it harder to remember things or concentrate. Your memory works much better with no distractions. Try to make your environment quiet and remove any unnecessary distractions.

Get support

Talk to friends and family about how you feel and how you can work together. They can support you to try out new techniques to help with your memory.

If you have a diagnosis of dementia, it is a good idea to find out more about it, including information about what treatments are available. Speak to your GP or see The dementia guide: Living well after your diagnosis.

You could also talk to a professional such as a psychologist about how you’re feeling.

The memory handbook

Get advice about memory problems in our free booklet. The memory handbook is for people with mild memory problems and offers some ideas and practical strategies to help with living well.

Get a copy of The memory handbook
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