Memory strategies

Read about different strategies you could try to help you cope with memory problems.

People remember things in different ways. This means some strategies will work better for some people. Try them out and see which ones work best for you. See if other people can help you with some of these strategies.

A problem-solving approach

When applying strategies for remembering things, you might find it helpful to follow these steps:

  1. Identify the problem
    Example: ‘I sometimes forget people’s names.’

  2. Decide how much it matters to you
    Example: ‘It happens a lot. It can be embarrassing’. (It may be that some things matter a great deal, like forgetting a close friend’s name. But will it really matter much if you forget the name of a celebrity who you’re unlikely to meet?)

  3. Think about how you might help yourself
    Example: ‘I could carry a small photo album with people’s names next to their photos or save them as contacts with photos in my mobile phone. Or I could tell people I’m a bit forgetful, ask for their name, and then repeat it in conversation.’ (Other examples are given below)
  4. Practise your strategies and see what works for you
    Rehearse your strategies with a close friend or partner. They can support you to learn. You will then feel more confident when you go out.

Using mental pictures

Some people can picture things and places in their mind to learn and remember:

  • facts
  • how to do something new
  • how to do routine actions.

For example: How can you remember a PIN so that you can get money from a cash machine? Imagine the numbers making a letter or shape on the number pad.

You could try making a picture in your mind from something in the person’s name. For example:

  • for Natasha Singh, you could imagine a girl singing
  • for Neil Holly, you could imagine a man kneeling down and waving a piece of holly.

You can have a lot of fun with these kinds of reminders. The more funny or unusual they are, the more likely you are to remember them.

You could link the person’s most prominent feature with your mental picture of them. Glasses, long curly hair, or something they often wear (such as a particular hat or jumper) could be good things to focus on.

You could also try linking the person with other people who have the same name – for example, ‘This person has the same name as my favourite film star, Charlie.’

Try these helpful tips:

  • When picturing images in your mind, try to physically be in the place where you need to remember it.
  • Practise using the image. It will help you learn and remember it.
  • Describe or draw your images in a notebook. This will help you to remember them and you will have something to refer to if you forget some of them.
  • Tell someone else the strategies you’re using. If you can’t remember which technique this is or how to use it, they can prompt you.

For help with remembering health professionals who visit you, you could use My visitors book. This provides a written record to remind you of their names, job roles and what was discussed.

Jogging your memory

Working memory struggles the most when it is under pressure. Calmly try the following suggestions to jog your memory in different situations, such as when:

  • You lose something at home

Try picturing yourself when you used it last and visualise where you put it down.

  • You go into a room and you’re not able to remember why you went there

Try to picture where you were when you decided to go to the room. Retracing your footsteps in person (or in your mind) can help you to recover your train of thought. 

  • You prepare food and you’re not able to remember the ingredients you need

Try picturing yourself cooking the food and using all the ingredients you need for that particular dish. Going through the alphabet can help you remember the names of different ingredients.

Using words and rhymes

Words and rhymes can also help you to remember people’s names.

Try thinking of words that start with the same letter as the person’s name:

Pleasant Peter
Funny Fiona
Pretty Penny
Smiley Sunita

You could also think of words that rhyme with the person’s name. For example:

Tall Paul
Merry Terry
Jolly Molly
Carer Sarah

Some people make up their own rhymes, songs or sayings to help them remember facts and numbers. Here are some techniques people told us they use:

Betty found it difficult to remember the registration number of her car, which was YY51 FHT. So she made up this humorous sentence:

Why, Why (have I got) 51 Funny Happy Toes?

You might be able to think of a word where the initials stand for a set of actions you have to remember. For example:

When Jean arrived home, she had to open the front door, switch off the alarm and then press a ‘zapper’ to close the electric garage door. She found it difficult to remember the zapper, so the garage door was often left open.

Jean hung a DAZ washing powder packet by her front door to remind her of the procedure:

Door    Alarm    Zapper

Harry always forgot to close the front gate when he got home. He made up the word GLO to help him remember:

G - Gate    L - Lock car door    O - Open front door

It can help if you picture yourself carrying out the sequence of actions in your head.

A joke or funny phrase might also help you to remember. For example:

  • Jean DAZZLED herself every time she zapped the garage door!

  • Harry felt a GLO of pride as he remembered to lock the gate!

Use any reminder that works for you – it doesn’t matter how odd it may seem to someone else.

Free Helpcards

If you have memory problems, our free Helpcards can make it easier to get help or assistance when you're out in the community.

Find out more
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