11 tips to aid memory for helping and supporting a loved one with dementia or memory loss…

20 March

It’s almost impossible to get through the day without the use of memory aids. We use calendars, diaries, post-it notes, lists and technology devices to aid us.  Panic sets in when we lose our diary, list or device.

So it’s no surprise that someone with dementia can experience depression, frustration, and anger, or start to avoid conversation and begin to withdraw.

Here are some suggestions you might find useful when supporting a loved one with memory loss. Choosing strategies to suit the person and progression of the memory loss will help.

Finding a lost item

Ask your loved one to close their eyes and go back in their mind to when they last remember having the misplaced item.

  • What were they doing at the time?
  • Where did they go next?

Alternatively, get them to physically go back to where they were when they last used the item and repeat everything they can remember doing from then on.

Repeating the same question

Your loved one may forget where they’re going, what time lunch will be ready, or something else.

When they ask the question, write the answer down on a card. Read it out and then show themthe words. When they ask again, ask them to read the card. After doing this a few times they will automatically look at the card instead of asking the question.

Helping to locate regularly used items

Have specific places for things and always return them to same location, for example:

  • keys on a hook in the hall
  • shoes on a shoe rack
  • spectacles in a case on their bedside table
  • outdoor coat and umbrella on a stand near the door
  • jumpers in a specific drawer

Forgetting if they have done something

Encourage your loved one to state aloud what they are doing, as they do it.

  • ‘I’m feeding the cat’
  • ‘I’m locking the back door’
  • ‘I’m turning off the gas’

This will increase their ability to remember.

Remembering to do things

Make a list for your loved one, showing what they do and when during the day. Put this up on a wall or a whiteboard. For example:

9:00:   Take dog for a walk, buy paper at corner shop.

10:00: Have coffee and read paper

And so on.

Shopping for large items

After browsing, your loved one may not be able to remember what a piece of furniture, TV or carpet looked like.

Use a smart phone, or take a digital camera with you, take pictures and make notes. This will help them to remember later, compare and choose what they would like to purchase. 

Remembering how to do everyday things

Pin instructions in appropriate places like the following:

How detailed the instructions are will depend on the person’s abilities. Also, make sure the print is large enough for them to read. 

Keep the wording simple. If they have difficulty reading, use drawings or pictures for each step. You may be able to take pictures using a digital camera.

Be consistent

Avoid any temptation to move or reorganise things. Your loved one will be used to seeing them in familiar places.

Knowing where things are kept

Label or put pictures on drawers, cabinets and boxes. This makes it easy for the person to find what they want.

Try using the dementia toolkit to help with this.

Recalling what they have done

Encourage your loved one to keep a diary of what they’ve done, like:

  • ‘Went to the supermarket with Jane’
  • ‘Grandchildren visited.’

They will need to keep their diary with them and write in it as they do things or immediately afterwards. They can then consult the diary later. This can help with locating lost items too.

Dealing with worries while you are out

Have a memo board on which you leave notes for your loved one, in case they have forgotten that you’ve gone out and become worried.

‘Today is Saturday, 10th June.  I have gone to the supermarket. Back at 12:00pm.  Love, Peter.’

Remembering to take medications

Use a seven day pill organiser. If your loved one takes pills two or three times a day, label different organisers or use one with different compartments for each day. Put the organiser in a place where it will be noticed, leave a reminder note or include on a daily ‘to do’ list.

If one approach doesn’t work, adapt another. Being creative will help you work out systems to suit the person for whom you are caring.


Written by Robin Dynes

Robin has worked in the National Health Service, Social Services and Adult Education for over 30 years as a counsellor and trainer.

His main role has been to develop innovative services to meet the needs of older people and others who are vulnerable. His published resources include; The Memory Handbook, The Reminiscence Puzzle Book, The Memory Box, Memory Games For Groups, Writing Life Histories, Life Histories Game, Creative Games For Groups and The Non-Competitive Activity Book. All are available from www.speechmark.net or www.amazon.co.uk