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How to Improve Memory Recall

Oftentimes, those living with dementia have increased difficulty recalling once-familiar information or events. Perhaps your loved one forges how to brush their teeth, or wonders why you’ve given them a spoon with their bowl of ice cream, or questions the need for wearing shoes to the store. There are plenty of cognitive exercises you can do with your loved one in to preserve memory recall, which can give him or her greater independence, and potentially postpone the need for higher levels of care.

If your loved one is suffering from a memory-impairing illness, s/he is most likely in a very vulnerable state. All aspects of life are affected by the progression of dementia, and memory recall is no exception. Memory recall is used for many activities of daily living, such as eating, dressing and personal hygiene. When it begins to fail, your loved one will inevitably lose the ability to execute such activities of daily living, resulting in a loss of independence and subsequent behavior issues — this is the number one reason family caregivers choose residential placement for their loved ones. It’s possible to help your loved one maintain some memory recall by engaging him or her in cognitive exercises. The following activities can be modified to fit your loved one’s ability and comfort level, and should be practiced several times each week.

Exercise #1:

Create a series of cards with pictures of common objects on them (a broom, a fork, and a hat). Ask your loved one to show you the broom. Next, ask your loved one, “Which one is the hat?” Continue until you’ve gone through all of the picture cards. You can also ask your loved one to describe what a certain item is used for. For example, “What would you use this fork for?” Encourage them to answer fully — and let them use hand gestures or motions if needed to communicate their answer. Note any cards that your loved one struggles with, and return to them later. Always reinforce that your loved is doing a good job even if they are having difficulty with this exercise.   

Exercise #2:

Have your loved one keep a daily journal. In this journal, s/he should write important phone numbers, appointments, thoughts and reminders, and and other information they feel they should track daily. Each day, your loved one should write the date, the weather, any feelings they’re having, anything exciting that will or has happened, and any cues, such as a note to remember to brush his or her teeth (if it’s been forgotten lately). The goal is to encourage your loved one to establish a routine that will assist them in remaining independent and oriented each day.

It’s important to remember that your loved one may make “mistakes,” or struggle with certain tasks — so they’ll need your support and compassion, not criticism or pressure to do things “right.