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Using Memory Aids

Everyone can use memory aids, which are physical tools to augment memory.

Key points

  • Memory aids can enable you to stay organized and remember information.
  • Remember the "golden rules" of memory aids: Don’t delay, keep it simple, and make it routine.
  • Take advantage of technology such as phone-based to-do lists, calendars, reminders, and alarms.

In a recent post, I reviewed a number of basic memory strategies. Now we’ll turn to memory aids—physical tools that you can use to augment your memory. Anyone with mild memory problems can benefit from memory aids. Whether due to COVID-19 brain fog, traumatic brain injury, mild cognitive impairment, mild dementia, or normal aging, memory aids may help. Below are some of these aids and a brief description of each. But first, the "three golden rules."

Three Golden Rules

These rules will help you be successful when using memory aids.

  • Rule 1: Don’t delay. To keep track of things with memory aids, use them promptly. For example: Write down appointments immediately. Take medications when the reminder alarm goes off.
  • Rule 2: Keep it simple. Avoid redundancy; simplicity reduces confusion. For example, use one calendar, not four.
  • Rule 3: Make it routine. Use memory aids all the time, every time. Make a habit of using them, and they will become an automatic part of your daily life.
Source: VectorMine/Shutterstock

Memory Aids

Use an Organizer: Organization can help you compensate for memory problems when doing many tasks including paying the bills, balancing the checkbook, and going shopping.

Write Out Instructions: Many tasks are easy enough to do if you can remember all the steps—the problem is keeping all the steps in mind. Writing out step-by-step instructions provides a simple solution.

Designate a Memory Table: If you always put your keys, glasses, phone, and wallet in the same place, they will never go missing. For example: Use the hall table or a basket by the back door for this purpose. As Benjamin Franklin liked to say, “A place for everything and everything in its place.”

Use a Pillbox: Pillboxes and pharmacy-filled blister packs can aid in medications being taken correctly. (More on keeping track of medications in my next post.)

Rely on Calendars or Daily Planners: Place the calendar or planner where you will see it at least daily. Include the five “W”s in each appointment: When is the date and time of the appointment? Who is the appointment with? Where is the location and phone number of the appointment? What is the appointment for? What should you bring with you to the appointment?

Take Advantage of Technology: Take advantage of as much technology as you are able to use, such as smartphones with electronic to-do lists, calendars, reminders, and alarms.

Keep a Notebook: A small notebook in your pocket or purse can be useful to record and retrieve any information.

Make Lists: Whether grocery, shopping or "to-do," lists can help you remember what needs to be done.

Use Reminder Notes: Sticky notes can be put on the door, refrigerator, bathroom mirror, and any other place you can think of to remind you to do something. Just remember to remove the note once the task is done.

Use pictures: Pictures are easier to remember than words. You can take advantage of this simple fact by using pictures whenever you want to remember something, whether it is events on the calendar, a shopping list, or a schedule of who you will be seeing and what you will be doing this week.

© Andrew E. Budson, M.D., 2022, all rights reserved.


Budson AE, Kensinger EA. Why We Forget and How To Remember Better: The Science Behind Memory, New York: Oxford University Press, 2023.

Budson AE, O’Connor MK. Seven Steps to Managing Your Memory: What’s Normal, What’s Not, and What to Do About It, New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Budson AE, O’Connor MK. Six Steps to Managing Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia: A Guide for Families, New York: Oxford University Press, 2022.

Budson AE, Solomon PR. Memory Loss, Alzheimer’s Disease, & Dementia: A Practical Guide for Clinicians, 3rd Edition, Philadelphia: Elsevier Inc., 2022.

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