Memory loss

4. Tips: practical steps to help the memory

Avoid unnecessary stress

If someone is tired, unwell, anxious or depressed, they will find it even more difficult to remember things. The memory problems will also become more apparent if they try to do more than one thing at a time, or if they are distracted by noise or bustle.

  • Things that will help to reduce a person's stress include:
  • Making sure they have plenty of emotional support and enough practical help.
  • Helping them to concentrate on one thing at a time.
  • Trying to make sure that there are limited distractions, such as background noise or lots of people.
  • Providing verbal cues rather than asking questions that might make the person feel 'put on the spot'. For example, say: 'Look - here's David, your nephew, who has come to see you', rather than 'Do you remember who this is?'
  • Making sure the person has enough meaningful activities to do and gets enough exercise, which helps reduce pent-up tension.
  • Helping the person to get enough sleep, which helps with the formation of new memories. If the person is having problems sleeping, discuss this with the GP. If they are not sleeping because of nightmares and they take their medication at night, have them consider taking it in the morning instead.

If you think that the person seems anxious or depressed, consult the GP.

Put a regular routine in place

Although variety and stimulation are important, too many changes can be confusing for a person with dementia. Setting up a regular routine will help someone feel more secure, and will make it easier to remember what usually happens during the day. It is also a good idea to leave things in the same place, so that they can be found more easily.

People can begin to lose their sense of time quite early on in dementia. If they can't remember what they have done, or what they are going to do that day, they may find it hard to judge how much time has passed or to anticipate what will happen next. Keeping to a regular routine can help with this difficulty, as will tactful reminders of the day and time, and about what is going to happen next. A calendar should be displayed prominently and the person with dementia should be encouraged to refer to it regularly.

Make the most of memory aids

In the early stages of dementia, memory aids such as lists, diaries, clocks and clear, written instructions can help jog the person's memory if they are willing and able to make use of them. As the dementia progresses, the person may become less able to understand what the aids are for.

For details of Alzheimer's Society services in your area, visit alzheimers.org.uk/localinfo 

For information about a wide range of dementia-related topics, visit alzheimers.org.uk/factsheets

Further reading

Alzheimer's Society's The memory handbook (code 1540) contains practical ideas for people living with memory problems. One copy free. To order, phone 0300 303 5933 or email orders@alzheimers.org.uk