Types of memory

Memory is a very complex thing. There are several different types. You use these different types of memory when you do different things. It can help to know a little about them.

Working memory

You use this to store information for short periods. For example, working memory is needed to remember the numbers when you do a sum in your head.

If you have problems with your working memory you may take longer to figure something out. For example, you might need more time handling coins at the supermarket till.

Episodic memory

This is needed to recall past events – recent or distant.

You use episodic memory when you remember personal experiences, such as what you had for lunch or when you attended a family gathering. These memories often include recalling emotions or feelings.

If you are struggling to recall recent memories such as where you parked the car you may have a problem with your episodic memory.

Semantic memory

You use this to remember the meanings of words or remember facts. You also use it to remember familiar faces or objects.

If you have a problem with your semantic memory you may have difficulty finding the right words when you are talking to someone.

Prospective memory

You use this to remember about an appointment, date or event that is due to happen in the future.

If you have a problem with your prospective memory you may forget to do something at a particular time. Or you may forget that you had planned something, such as visiting a friend.

Procedural memory

This involves activities that you learn and can then do automatically without having to think. You use procedural memory to complete a sequence of actions in a particular order – such as tying shoelaces or swimming. You rely on it when you adopt new habits. This might include learning to use new memory aids.

Using your senses

Your memory takes in information provided by your senses.

Our five senses are:

  • Sight
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Touch
  • Hearing

You can recall information stored in your memory with or without the help of prompts from your senses. However, a prompt can often help.

Examples of prompts

  • A photograph of someone can prompt the memory of a forgotten name (sight).
  • A particular perfume can prompt the memory of someone special to you (smell).
  • The taste of a dish can prompt the memory of when you first ate it (taste).
  • The feeling of sand under your toes may evoke memories of a childhood holiday (touch).
  • A piece of music may bring back memories of when you first met your partner (hearing).

The process of remembering

When you ‘record’ a memory, and then bring it back, your mind goes through this process:


You get a piece of information that is received through your five senses.


Your brain converts this information into a form that can be stored. It is held first in your short-term memory.


You transfer some of the information from short-term memory into the storage of long-term memory. This can take many months and can be helped by repeating it over and over again in your mind (known as ‘rehearsal’).


You recall the information stored in your long-term memory.

Memory problems can be caused by something going wrong at any of these stages. The way information is stored and retrieved can be very specific to the individual. It often depends on how important the information is to you.

It can be difficult tackling memory problems, but it’s important to try, as there are many ways to help your memory. Most people already use specific techniques to help them remember things.

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