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Basic Memory Strategies

Strategies that can help with mild memory problems.

Key points

  • Memory-boosting strategies take effort to implement but become easier the more you practice them.
  • Creating visual images is a particularly effective strategy, as most people remember pictures better than words.
  • When a name is on the tip of your tongue, relax and think of other things you know about the person.
Shirstok/Shutterstock
Source: Shirstok/Shutterstock

When memory problems are mild, some strategies can help. These strategies take effort to implement, but that’s good: The effort will help you remember. Strategies also become easier the more you practice them. Below we list and describe some basic memory strategies.

Practice active attention. Use conscious effort to pay attention to relevant details you need to remember, such as facts, names, or landmarks. Mindfulness training (through a class, book, or phone app) can improve your ability to practice active attention.

Minimize environmental distractions. If fewer distractions exist, focusing on what you are trying to remember is easier.

Take breaks. You can only pay full attention for so long before fatigue sets in. When it does, take a break.

Repeat information spaced out over time. One of the most successful ways to remember information is to repeat it several times in a row, then again after a few minutes, again after an hour, again after a few more hours, and again before going to bed. Continuing this repetition periodically over a day, week, or month can help you remember information for a long time.

Make connections. Link something new you are trying to remember to something you already know well.

Create visual images. We all remember pictures better than words, so making mental images will help you remember things.

Put it in a location. To help remember an item list, mentally place an item in each room (or each part of each room) in your house. To retrieve the items, you simply walk through your home, recalling each item as you go.

Use the first-letter method. Acronyms and abbreviations are useful strategies: You can create original acronyms to remember almost anything.

Use chunking. It is generally easier to remember groups of letters, numbers, or words than to recall each item. For example, 1364279805 versus 136-427-9805.

Cluster information by topic. Shopping lists and other information will be easier to remember if clustered into groups, such as vegetables, beverages, meats, etc.

Invent rhymes. If you make a catchy rhyme, you’ll remember it for a long time.

Get emotional. You can improve memory by engaging in what you are trying to remember, creating an emotional reaction.

Test yourself. An excellent way to remember things is to summarize the key points, write them on flashcards, and test yourself with the flashcards.

Write it down. Just the process of writing down information will help you remember it.

Relax when it is on the tip of your tongue. Becoming tense and anxious makes it more difficult to recall names and other information. Repeating the wrong name often blocks the right one—try to think of other things you know about the individual instead.

Learn the name well in the first place. Pay full attention when you are learning a new name. Repeat the name aloud. Connect the name to something or someone you know. Make a visual image of the person and your new connection with their name. Find something in the person’s appearance that reminds you of their name. Repeat the name periodically.

Review names before attending a social event. It never hurts to be prepared.

It’s okay to forget a name: Don’t feel stressed or embarrassed if you forget a name. There is nothing wrong with simply saying, “I’m sorry that I can’t recall your name. Would you remind me?”

© Andrew E. Budson, MD, 2022, all rights reserved.

References

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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