Having sustained a serious a brain injury five years ago, I have learned to incorporate memory tools into my life every day. While my short term memory has drastically improved from being nonexistent right after the injury, I still rely on memory tools up to make life easier.
Memory challenges can be experienced by anyone due to anxiety and stress, age related decline, brain injury or stroke or just an overwhelmed brain on a particularly busy day in which you are trying to cram too much into too few hours. Sound familiar?
For me, the most basic memory must is to put everything back in the same place every time. ALWAYS No exceptions. My iPhone is always on my desk or in my purse. My debit card goes back in the same slot in my wallet every time. The dog’s leash goes back on the hook in the kitchen every time. If I lay something down randomly, I may not see it again for a long time.
I have learned not to do this – most of the time. However, I need corrective lenses to see at a distance. As I have aged, I have developed the wonderful presbyopia so that I can’t focus close up while wearing my glasses or contacts. Without them, interestingly enough, my nearsighted vision is fine. I am forever taking my glasses off and setting them down or, if I have my contacts in, putting on and taking off reading glasses. In utter frustration, I can’t tell you how much time I have wasted looking for glasses. (I have tried the bifocal contacts. Hated them!) I try to , at least, always put my glasses down somewhere very obvious, when I remember, that is. When they do go missing, it is helpful to retrace my steps doing a play-by-play. These same tips can work with any item.
Organization is absolutely key. I tend to be a neat freak anyway; so, this is relatively easy for me. Clutter is chaos for the memory challenged. I live by myself which helps because I can stick to my system without interference. However, when my sons visit, the dog leash may go missing for days until it is discovered in the pouch on the back of the seat in the car.
Establishing and sticking to rituals is very helpful. In the first year after my brain injury, I would just forget to pay bills. I, eventually, established the habit of doing this every Monday. I take my supplements at the same times every day. I drink a glass of water at regular points in the day. With repetition, these actions become habits.
While I was never a big list person before the brain injury, boy, I am now. A magnetized note pad hangs on my refrigerator to running list of what I need at the grocery. When going out, I make a schedule of the stops I need to make, plan my route, and note what is to be accomplished at each place. This maximizes my time and gas. I have gotten to the grocery store plenty of times only to realize that I have forgotten the list or I have found that I bolted out the door without my well planned schedule. A lot of good these do then! Putting the notes somewhere conspicuous so that I will see them upon leaving helps to reduce the chance of this happening, but it still does even then. In preparing for an event, for example my son’s birthday, I will make a list of what needs to be done on each day for the week leading up to it.
When trying to remember something specific without writing it down, it always helps to create mental links or associations. These can be visual, mneumonic or anything that works for you. For instance, if I want to remember the address 1825 Deer Forest Drive. I might make a mental note that it begins with my sons’ age followed by picture a deer in a forest with a quarter (for the 25) on its back. Or, for example, if I need to get toilet paper, bananas and salad dressing at the grocery, all I have to remember is TPBS – the first letter of each word. When trying to remember the name Kristy Farr, I might picture the face of my cousin along with the saying “not near but…?”
In the article, Twenty Memory Tricks You’ll Never Forget by Patricia Curtis, she suggests the following:
• Use your body. When you have no pen or paper and are making a mental grocery or to-do list, remember it according to major body parts, says Scott. Start at your feet and work your way up. So if you have to buy glue, cat food, broccoli, chicken, grapes and toothpaste, you might picture your foot stuck in glue, a cat on your knee looking for food, a stalk of broccoli sticking out of your pants pocket, a chicken pecking at your belly button, a bunch of grapes hanging from your chest and a toothbrush in your mouth.
• Go Roman. With the Roman room technique, you associate your grocery, to-do or party-invite list with the rooms of your house or the layout of your office, garden or route to work. Again, the zanier the association, the more likely you’ll remember it, says Scott. Imagine apples hanging from the chandelier in your foyer, spilled cereal all over the living room couch, shampoo bubbles overflowing in the kitchen sink and cheese on your bedspread.
I have read about these types of memory tricks elsewhere and understand that the Roman technique is used by memory champions. However, I find them too complicated and elaborate for me to be of any help. I can’t remember all the stuff involved which is supposed to help me remember. In my more simple techniques, I have remembered the memory link before, but had no idea what it linked to that I wanted to remember. Sometimes, I forget that I need to make it a point to remember and use my memory tricks. I forget to remember if that makes any sense. I have not figured out a real solution to this one yet other than trying to be present and mindful as much as possible. I find that my memory is always better if I slow down, pay attention, and be fully present.
I can really tell a difference in my memory if I do not take my fish oil supplement. I also take a tumeric supplement, which has been scientifically proven to aid memory, and a good B complex vitamin which is crucial to memory function. I find and many studies have shown that regular cardiovascular exercise and adequate sleep impact memory as well.