Need to Improve Your Memory? Always Losing Your Keys?

How Speech-Language Pathologists help improve memory and organizational skills.

Posted May 18, 2017

My integrative practice specializes in brain fitness and brain rehabilitation. I have a team of brain health experts, from various fields, and together using my 5-Prong Approach we help patients/clients overcome challenges of traumatic and acquired brain injuries. We treat symptoms from conditions including post-concussion syndrome (concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury), stroke, ADD/ADHD and more.

with permission from
Source: with permission from

Cognitive issues present one major challenge for patients/clients with a brain injury. These issues can be related to memory, organization, difficulty planning and executing tasks, attention, and social engagement. Without proper treatment, these issues can affect the person’s ability to regain their life and resume life as they once knew it, in addition to greatly reducing the ability to achieve in school and/or work, and lead a productive and fulfilling life.

For this reason, I have always had a Speech-Language Pathologist as part of my integrative team.

How can SLP improve Memory and Cognitive Function?

In my practice we have a certified Speech-Language Pathologist, Amy Karas MS, CCC-SLP.  Amy has over 20 years of experience working with acquired brain injuries, learning disabilities and other social and communication disorders. She specializes in memory problems and improving organization skills, as well as cognitive, social pragmatics and language treatment, with an emphasis on providing functional therapy strategies/systems. Amy’s approach emphasizes understanding what someone needs to improve quality of life, task efficiency and effectiveness and maximizing independence.

Organization Skills and Memory

Initiation, planning, and organization require higher-order thinking (HOT). Higher order thinking skills involve more than memorizing facts or retelling something that was told to you. HOT requires that we do something with the facts.

To initiate, plan, and organize successfully, a person needs to be able to think ahead, concentrate, remember things, gather and sort information, and set priorities using higher order thinking.

Initiation is the ability to determine what needs to be done, develop a plan about how to start the task, and putting the plan into action. Example: if a person wants to get dressed, first they must be able to identify the need to get dressed, decide what they will wear, and begin choosing the clothing.

Planning is the ability to determine which steps are needed to complete a task, and how long it will take to complete it. Example: If a person wants to prepare a meal they must decide what they will cook, determine which ingredients are required, where they can get the ingredients, how long it will take to cook, and how much to cook.

Organization is the ability to put all the steps of a task in the correct order, and the ability to change the order as needed, to successfully complete the task.

The more complex the task, the more brain areas need to be recruited and engaged simultaneously to successfully complete the job. Communication between areas of the brain is critical for coordination of neuronal activity that underlies higher cognitive function and complex decision making. For various reasons, such as brain injury, communication between brain areas can be interrupted to prevent additional stress on the brain which can lead to cognitive impairment.

Having issues initiating, planning, organization and/or memory can be very challenging and quite stressful. Constant difficulties planning and organizing your daily life, starting or finishing tasks, setting up schedules and remembering things like where you left your keys, can result in feeling anxious and overwhelmed. These feelings, which are symptoms of your inability to organize or plan your life in a structured (Linear) way, causes more chaos in your life.

The following are some practical tools to help you complete daily tasks:

  • Use a daily planner, or a comparable phone application
  • Make daily/weekly “to do” lists
  • Make shopping lists
  • Post notes, signs, checklists to remind yourself what to do and when
  • Alarm/Timer: Set a timer or alarm to remind you of when to start tasks, or to remind you of important things that need to be done.
  • Avoid trying to retain information or complete tasks when tired
  • Limit your use of alcohol: Drinking affects memory and cognition
  • Some medications can affect memory, ask your doctor if short-term memory loss is a side effect of your medication(s)
  • Minimize distractions. For example, if you are preparing a meal, do not watch TV or have background music on at the same time.
  • De-clutter your environment. Get rid of things you don’t use or need
  • Follow a routine/habit and stick to it. Example: always put your keys, cell phone, wallet in the same place every day.


used with permission from
Source: used with permission from

The brain is divided into two hemispheres. For most people, the left side, or left hemisphere, is the Linear Brain. This is where structure, organizational skills, planning skills, reasoning, analytics skills, logic, language, speech, science, math, and number skills are located, as well as linear memory, including immediate, short-term and long term.

The right side, or right hemisphere, for most people is the Nonlinear Brain. This is where free thoughts, emotions, imagination, creativity, art, music, intuition, and spiritual feelings are located and nonlinear memory, such as recalling music and how to play a guitar.

Differences in the two hemispheres are very noticeable in anyone, especially seniors with severe dementia (injury to the linear brain) who are unable to recall the names of family members, yet can recall music and can sing along to songs they knew years before.

One main reason for having either organizational and/or memory problems is that these skills may never have been taught properly to you. Some families can set daily activities, schedules, and timelines, which are based on a linear structure. While another family’s life style maybe more nonlinear (emotional without structure) or dysfunctional.  As a child, you might not have been told how to organize your room or life, or how to recall information.  And depending on the educational system, these life skills, organization and memory recall might not have been taught.  Thus, this could be a case of you learn what you lived.


  • Brain Injury
  • Trauma
  • Infection and or reaction to medication
  • Concussion
  • Stroke
  • Sleep Problems
  • Side effects of drugs and alcohol

To help with organization skills, Speech-Language Pathologists help to improve the following cognitive (thinking) skills, which are often impaired in some way:

  • Attention – Ability to focus on one specific message or task.
  • Concentration – Ability to maintain attention to the message or task
  • Memory – Storing information in the brain and retrieving it when necessary
  • Organization –  Ability to identify and group all the the things needed to complete a task, and in the right order.
  • Reasoning and Problem Solving – Ability to demonstrate logic and flexibility to drive the appropriate course of action to complete a task.
  • Executive Functions – (of the frontal lobe) including initiating, planning, self-monitoring, and follow through.

My Own Brain Rehabilitation

Speech-Language Pathology plays an important role in brain rehabilitation and/or improving brain function. It was a vital part in my own rehabilitation and regaining my life after I suffered a brain injury, helping me with not only speech, but improving memory, organizing and executive functioning. In its simplest form, executive functioning is the ability to communicate with oneself and others in order to successfully function in life.

Diane Roberts Stoler, Ed.D.

Copyright © May 2017