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Memory aids, reminders and brain training

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Memory aids, reminders and brain training

Anyone can have difficulty remembering information. Keeping your brain alert and active is a good thing but, on its own, may not necessarily improve memory.

Consultant neuropsychologist, Dr Sallie Baxendale, attended our 2014 annual conference to give a presentation on coping with memory problems for people with epilepsy. Watch her presentation below:

Memory aids

Memory aids may help you to cope with memory problems. Different aids or reminders may suit different types of memory problems and they work best if they are used regularly as part of a routine. Here are some ideas.

Sticky notes

Sticky notes, such as Post it Notes™ can help you to remember to do things. For example, sticking a note to the front door to remind you to pick up your keys before you go out.


Using a calendar can be helpful, particularly if it is placed somewhere you will see it easily and often, such as on the fridge door.

Diaries, journals and ‘to do’ lists

Using a diary can help you to keep note of appointments, birthdays or phone numbers. Keeping more detailed notes in a diary may be helpful to keep track of people you have met, where you have been and what you did. A diary can also be a handy way of recording seizures.

A 'to do’ list can be useful to record daily tasks, for example phone calls to make, bills to pay. Email, mobile phones and computer software often include diaries and 'to do' lists. 

Drug wallets (pill boxes)

Drug wallets can help to remind you to take your medication and how many tablets to take. They usually have seven small containers to keep medication in, one for each day of the week. Each container is divided into sections, for the morning, afternoon and evening, and can be removed if you are going out and want to take your medication with you. Some have an alarm to remind you when to take your medication.

Drug wallets can also be used to check if you have taken your medication to avoid taking it twice by mistake. 

Alarms and mobile phones

Alarm clocks, alarms on watches or mobile phone alarms may be a useful reminder as part of your daily routine. For example, reminding you to take your medication or feed a pet.

Many mobile phones also have a reminder function. With this you can write a message and set a date and a time for the phone to send the message to you or to set an alarm. This can be a useful way of remembering everyday tasks as well as something that is not part of your usual routine, for example a dentist’s appointment.

Smartphones can access the internet to download software applications (apps) which add functions to your phone. There are many apps available, including memory aids.

Other memory techniques

Some memory techniques can help the brain to store and find information. They often need practice and may not be suitable for everyone. They may be helpful when you can’t use memory aids, such as in an exam.

These techniques often use rhymes, stories or images to help you to link ideas to make a stronger memory. Here are a few ideas for dealing with some common memory problems.

Remembering a word that’s ‘on the tip of your tongue’

If you have trouble remembering a word, alphabetical searching may help. In your head go through the alphabet asking yourself if the word you’re looking for begins with ‘a’ ‘b’ ‘c’…etc.

If this does not work, try using a different word. If you are talking to someone at the time, you may want to tell them that it’s not the word you were looking for. They may try to help by suggesting another word.

Remembering someone’s name

The following techniques might help to make a name more memorable:

  • When you meet someone for the first time concentrate on their name, repeat it to yourself and use it while you talk to them. It may be helpful to write the name down and try to think of a way to remember it later.
  • Imagine a picture of the person that has something to do with their name. For example, Mr Bridge sitting on a famous bridge.
  • Use a rhyme, for example Joan always moans or Mr Shah drives a sports car.
  • A silly image may help you to remember names, for example you could imagine Mr Pearman as a pear.

Remembering where you put something

To help you remember where you put something, picture in your mind the object in the place you’re putting it. Also, saying out loud 'I am putting...' while doing this can help your brain to create a link to the memory of doing that task. Writing down what you have done, in a diary or other place which you look at regularly, may also help

Going over in your mind what you were doing the last time you had the missing item is another technique. Physically going back to where you were at the time can also help.

It can be helpful to have a filing system, a standard routine, or places to keep things, such as keeping your keys in the same place.

Using sayings or rhymes

Sayings or rhymes are often used to recall information. Using the first letter of each word in a sentence can help you to remember a list. For example, Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain, can remind you of the colours of the rainbow: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet.

Using pictures or mind mapping

Drawing a picture that represents what you are reading or revising may help you to recall the information. Mind maps, or ‘spidergrams’, where you draw a diagram or map of the information using keywords or phrases can also be helpful. Here is an example.

Preparing for exams

These ideas may help you revise for exams:

  • Revise in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed or distracted, to help you focus.
  • Linking what you are reading to a personal experience, or something you already know, may help you to store the information.
  • Test yourself before the exam. Past papers or revision guides can help.
  • Try to get a good night’s sleep before the exam. The brain’s ability to recall information works better when it’s alert.
  • When the exam begins you could quickly write or draw your revision aids on rough paper, to help you remember your preparation work.

Brain training

This involves doing computer-based mental exercises. There are several 'brain training' packages available. Companies that promote brain training claim that doing these exercises regularly increases brain power, improving memory and other brain functions, although independent research has shown that brain training does not improve memory performance in daily life.

Information produced: April 2019

How memory works

Throughout our lives, memories are being made, stored and found by our brain. Links made between our brain cells help us to remember the thoughts, skills, experiences and knowledge that make each of us unique. Memory can be one of the key issues that affects people with epilepsy.