Memory problems are frustrating and sometimes

they can be prevent one from functioning

independently.  Some typical memory complaints

in individuals over fifty are difficulty remembering

directions, failing to recall names to faces and

becoming lost in conversation.  Trouble

remembering nonverbal information is also

common but typically gets noticed less.  A

neuropsychological assessment is the only systematic

technique to accurately measure the extent of one’s cognitive limitations.  Once patterns in memory performance and degree of memory impairment are accurately understood, treatment can be considered.  Treatment can include prescribing medication, increasing supervision or instructing the patient on how to effectively use compensatory tools and strategies to minimize the impact of forgetfulness. 

What are Medications that Decrease Forgetfulness?

Some patients benefit from a group of drugs called Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors.  These drugs target a neurotransmitter pathway that has been shown to have a crucial role in the formation of memories.  These drugs are believed to increase the overall amount of Acetylcholine in the brain by which means they increase the ability to form new memories.  The most common drugs in this category go by the names of Aricept, Namenda, Razadyne and Excelon.

What is Cognitive Rehabilitation?

If and when cognitive rehabilitation is appropriate, memory strategies and exercises are taught as a clinician attempts to identify lifestyle changes which could strengthen cognitive functioning.  Turning helpful memory strategies into automatic responses may be the single most important outcome of cognitive rehabilitation.  Automatically slowing down conversations, using humor and deploying memory strategies can boost your effectiveness in social situations.  Compensatory tools (notepads, rubber bands cellular phones) can be used in conjunction with strategies (rehearsal, chunking) to attain the maximum benefits for managing memory problems.

When teaching these tools and strategies it is helpful to provide either a text or a journal article that the patient can share with family members and review at home.  For those who would like to purchase a text I recommend Retraining Cognition: Techniques and Applications (Parente & Herrman, 2003) and for those who would like a more concise description I provided a copy of Principles of Experience-Dependent Neural Plasticity: Implications for Rehabilitation After Brain Damage (Kleim & Jones, 2008).

What are Compensatory Tools for Improving Memory

Compensatory tools, also known as external aids, are tools that can be used to safeguard against forgetting important information at critical times.  Some are very basic and straightforward, such as tea kettles that whistle or rubber bands with reminders on them.  Others are more advanced and require a great deal of practice before they can be used effortlessly. 

Decades ago large amounts of money could be invested into cumbersome contraptions intended to manage forgetting. Appointment calendars, reminder systems, micro-recorders, pocket notebooks and voice activated telephones were compensatory tools for the priveledged few.

Today, the cellular telephone is a very complex little device that offers functions like reminders, alarms, memos, cameras, calendars and voice memos.  When used in conjunction with compensatory strategies, compensatory tools are very helpful for safeguarding against forgetting.  I recommend that anyone trying to manage cognitive limitations consider learning to use a cellular phone to manage  these problems more effectively. 

For those who are less technologically savvy devices such as notepads, post-it notes, rings, watches, calculators, wall calendars, day-planners and rubber bands can be quite useful with little training. 

Compensatory Strategies for Improving Memory

There is no “one size fits all” memory strategy.  This is because memory strategies are dependent upon individual cognitive strengths which vary from person to person.  To discover which works best for you, survey as many memory encoding strategies as possible.  Below is a list of potentially helpful strategies that have been useful to patients.


Rehearsing information refers to repeating information more than once to enhance memory retention.  Some material will need to be rehearsed as few as two or three times, while other information may need to be rehearsed as many as ten times.  It is helpful to explore how many times you must rehearse a type of information in order to remember it.


Chunking refers to dividing long lists of numbers into smaller groups of numbers.  For instance, when people remember phone numbers they usually break them into groups of three or four numbers.

Jersey Numbers

When you hear a string of numbers try to associate them with jersey numbers that you remember from your favorite athletes.  For instance, I you are read 3, 4, 7, 2 you might think of Walter Payton fumbling a football which is recovered by William Perry.


Psychoeducation refers to learning about how to live with  psychological education.

Exercises for Improving Memory

There are many different exercises that can be practiced to improve memory.  Some of them are made available in the form of books, while others are exercises on the internet.  Below I have compiled a list of links to useful free online exercises that can be used to improve memory.

   Visual Memory                    Verbal Memory                   Haptic Memory

       Dupligon                             Anagram Alley

     Mastermind                               Idiot Test

         Simon                                Word Generator

  Memory Matrix



Rehabilitating Memory Loss