Memory Enhancers for Dementia

18 Ways to Prolong Independence
Wall Calendar
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The following ideas are easy to implement and will help you manage the daily life of a person with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia.

Time Management Suggestions for Someone With Dementia

  • Calendar

Hang a wall calendar with large squares in a centralized location. Encourage the person to keep track of the date by crossing off each day on the calendar -- ideally as part of a routine, such as first thing in the morning or before going to bed. Attach a pen or marker to the calendar with a string so it doesn't get lost. Mark key events on the calendar: trash pickup day, family birthdays or events, medical appointments, days any bills are due, family visits.

  • Clock

Keep a large-faced, easy-to-read clock in plain view in every room the person frequents. Ideal is a digital clock that displays the day and date along with the time. You may also want to use written reminders ("I'll be back at 2 p.m.") or an inverted hourglass to help track time when this ability becomes more difficult.

  • Automatic bill payments

Reduce the number of bills the person you're caring for needs to keep track of by helping him or her sign up for automatic bill paying, which draws the funds from a bank account at the right time each month.

  • Reminder calls

If you're picking someone with early dementia up for an appointment, call right before you leave the house as a reminder that you're on your way. Don't call first thing in the morning for an afternoon appointment. When phone reminders are given too far in advance, it may cause confusion, and he or she may start getting ready to leave right away, then wonder where you are.

Medicine and Hygiene Reminders for Someone With Dementia

  • Pillbox

Whether the person in your care takes multiple medications or just one, a weekly pillbox helps him or her remember to do so day by day. Try attaching a cue card to the box with simple instructions covering when and how to take each medication (with meals, at night). If he or she has trouble remembering a pill that must be taken at a specific time, set a reminder alarm if you can -- or an alarm for yourself so you can call to give a phone reminder.

  • Hygiene prompts

Keeping important personal hygiene items visible reminds the person to do personal-care tasks. For example, keep toothpaste out on the counter next to the toothbrush rather than in the medicine cabinet.

  • Clean sweeps

Clutter and mess can confuse and distract people with Alzheimer's, causing them to forget where they placed or stored items or making them less able to handle certain tasks, like paying bills. Toss old periodicals and junk mail weekly. If someone comes in to clean the home, be sure the employee tidies surfaces and clears old papers -- without drastically rearranging things, which can be confusing.

Things to Simplify and Organize for Someone With Dementia

  • Keys and locks

Consider rekeying all the locks in the house so that a single key opens them all -- reducing the number of keys the person has to fumble with on a key chain. Make sure you have copies of the house key for yourself. Give another spare to a trustworthy neighbor in case the person in your care gets locked out of the house.

  • Home delivery

Simplify routines by reducing the number of tasks a person has to remember. If he or she typically went out to buy a daily newspaper, arrange for home delivery. Some stores will deliver basic groceries such as milk and eggs. Prescription refills can often be handled by mail.

  • Bulletin board

Next to the calendar, hang a corkboard where you can post reminders, frequently used phone numbers (including yours), and other important information.

  • Labels

For some people with moderate dementia, it can be handy to put labels on a few of the most-used drawers and cabinets in the kitchen and bedroom. But keep the labels simple and minimal, as too many may be confusing.

  • A corded phone

Dementia sufferers who usually use a cordless telephone may forget to leave it in the cradle or base to recharge it, or they may simply lose it. Cell phone batteries may also run low and get lost. A traditional telephone attached to a cord is a fail-safe backup.

  • Photo directory

If the person you're caring for has lots of different faces to deal with -- a meals-on-wheels volunteer, rotating home-health aides, adult daycare workers, physical therapists, doctors -- try taking snapshots of them and placing these in a special album or even on a bulletin board in plain view. Label them with each person's name and relationship to the person in your care. You can refer to the pictures as prompts before a scheduled meeting.

More Ways to Help Someone With Dementia

  • "Brain gym" activities

Although there's no solid evidence that mental gymnastics can repair brain damage already caused by Alzheimer's, or even slow its progression, some researchers feel intellectual exercises may help people maintain what abilities they have. If they still enjoy reading, doing crossword puzzles, playing board games such as chess or checkers, or working puzzles, continue to make those opportunities available. Be aware that these activities can be frustrating if they become hard to follow, so they should only be encouraged if they bring pleasure instead of feelings of inadequacy or failure.

  • Repetition

Repetitive suggestions can be far more effective (and less frustrating) than using reason and explanations when you're trying to help someone remember to do something.

  • Journals and notepads

Writing things down helps them stick in the memory. Buy a simple day-by-day diary small enough to carry around and record big events (appointments, holidays) and other information to remember, such as details of conversations or things to buy at the store. You can also record key phone numbers there. Providing prompts several times a day to use the datebook can reinforce the habit. Keep extra paper and pens on hand by the telephone and TV for spur-of-the-moment note-taking.

  • Exercise

Simple stretching and other regular movement, whether it's done indoors or outside, is thought to slow the advance of Alzheimer's symptoms. If the person in your care previously enjoyed walking, golf, or other exercise, try to find ways to continue it.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio

over 2 years, said...

Reme, Please scroll down and read my info over 4 years ago, from Awitta. I also just updated my profile picture, it's not pretty. It's a picture of my mother morphine.d and bandaged up after a fall at the assisted living. I had called her at 10 that morning;, she told me she was cold and hungry. They had rules that they wouldn't bring food to her room and help her eat. I told her that she had missed the breakfast that was served at 8, but she had to get up, and ask for food. I called the assisted living right afterward,. They were highly annoyed with me, as they were busy preparing lunch and only had one person for the 18 people in the house. 45 minutes later, I received a call that she had fallen and for me to meet her at the hospital. I didn't think I could care for her after the fall, she returned to the assisted living. When I found her broken fingernail in the bathroom and inquired of the caretaker as to what had happened, , in a completely civil tone, she told me to wait a minute . She returned with the management and a nurse who said that I was interfering with business and they were kicking me out for 7 days. I didn't know this was against the law!, I can still my hear my mother begging me to please come back. I came back in 3 days, only to find her yelling, "Help me, help me!" She was in soaking wet diapers, and her lips cracked and bleeding from dehydration. She was unable to sit up because of the hip fracture to drink water, they hadn't helped her. I had paid $3300 that month, I let them keep it and promptly withdrew her, bringing her into my home. I had rented a special medical bed, and hired hospice nurses . She spent the last three months of her life with me in my home, & I hired the good people I knew who really cared, who had worked in that short staffed assisted living for $8.50 per hour. I paid them $10 an hour, and ended up paying about the same monthly. I had much more control over the quality of her care when I hired private caretakers. I had been seeking help and support by going to an assisted living. Instead, they became another problem on top of my mother's education and dementia! If there is one mistake in my life I would give anything in the world to change, it would be that decision to place her in an assisted living.. Nevertheless, your suffering with the stress of caregiving rs not helping either your mom or you! I highly recommend reading Alzheimer's Reading Room, from a guy who knew he was banging his head against the wall until he figured out how to tailor his care for the least stress with his mother and himself. He changed his approach, began to understand the disease, and saw his mother's frustrating behaviour through a clearer understanding of what was occurring in her brain. It helped him with patience, and with seeing the world through her eyes so he could adjust his own behavior and ended up with less stress for both of them. I wish I had found Alzheimer's Reading Room before my mom's passing . I would also highly recommend getting support, actually seeking your state's Money Follows the Person program. There is caregiver support and money out there that wasn't around years ago. Watch Living and Dying in AssistedLliving, a PBS Frontline video. If you must explore this option, do it with great attention to detail and hang out at all hours of the day before you choose one . Consider that moves like this often increase the speed with which dementia sets in, as the change in environment is often a physiological stressor to the brain. It provides some relief just to be able to breathe, but the cost is way too high financially, and for me, for my conscience.. I am absolutely certain I shortened my mother's life, and I unintentionallymade the end very cruel and unfairly painful to her because of the decision I made. I I just felt I was at the end of my rope and could not take anymore, just like you! wish with all my heart I had found another way.. I will do the research that you need if you should write me back. I have a social work background. I am under "Awitta", please find my comment below. My experience was not a rare one, it is consistent with many other experiences. I have heard, from those who took the time to spend daily hours at assisted livings. There is too much hidden that the world rarely sees in the for profit institutions of "care". I truly hope you can find a solution that works for both your mother and yourself. I am willing to help!

over 2 years, said...

Hello other members. My mother is 88 with 'moderate' (?) dementia. I have been her caretaker for several years now and am burned out. Everything has become an issue: from taking her meds to picking up after herself, All safety advice is ignored. She has no concept of time: time of day, day of the week, night time or day time. She gets confused and mad at me because she thinks she needs to get to an appt. but there is no appt. I love my mother dearly but I can no longer handle this; the wandering, the repetition, the lack of attention to anything going on around her. I have 2 small dogs and she lets them out of the car or house without thinking and they run out into the street. I must now put her in to a facility with a memory ward. There are a lot of things she can still do for herself but she definitely needs locked doors. Is that still considered assisted living or is there a middle step way before nursing home? Any advice would be appreciated. And my best goes out to all of you who are in the same situation.

about 5 years, said...

Helpful: just being reminded of stuff I've already learned but tend to forget

about 5 years, said...

Dear Paula: I was very fortunate to be aided when my wife could no longer drive. Last June, in the 100 degree temperature, my wife ran out of gas on the way to the hairdresser. The hairdresser, called me that she had not arrived. I had just purchased "great call" devices for both of us. After looking for her at her usual luncheon spots, I called great call and they told me exactly where she was. She had been sitting in the sun for close to an hour and a policewoman was questioning her and had called the paramedics. She checked out all right, but the policewoman told me she would make a report to the DMV who notified us that she could no longer drive. She did not resist when I took away the keys and although she occasionally doesn't remember why she can't drive, I have no problem with her. However, it did change my life! Thank you for your support which I have just joined and I am thrilled with the response! Ralph

over 5 years, said...

My husband with early onset went through some difficult month. He had a very bad virus with sculp on his head that took few weeks to get over then, he got bit by a spider and had to go in the hospital for few days . He was treated with a heavy dose if anti biotic and boy! It was very scary. Both times disoriented. At times he could not hear, could not talk properly then started talking crazy. He still is not aware of being in the hospital. He taught we went on vacation and just got back.. I am witnessing so many crazy thing I don't know what to do with my self. Question- Is it the Alzheimer that is making him like this or is it just s head virus? From confused Mino

over 6 years, said...

the daily routine is something that my husband remembers to do, such as circuling the calendar each. that helps him know what day it is and the month He does it daily. I will start labeling the kitchen door cabinets. He gets confuse and I end up not finding thins where they are suppose to be put back, I open a cabinet door and I find out things that are in the wrong place. He just looks at me and says "there goes ? again. He also looses his belt and walks around with a flaslight and turns it on for no reason. I love him and our Lord is helpin me help him and he in return is helping me with my inability to walk by supporting me and assisting me with my cane or walker.

over 6 years, said...

The reminder calls and the calendar ideas are just great!! thank you!!

over 6 years, said...

Some of the things I already do, but there are always new things to try. I think this site will help me tremendously! Thank you.

over 6 years, said...

Use of the clock an using the calendar

almost 7 years, said...

Giving me many ideas that I can use in the future for my husband's health and pleasurel

almost 7 years, said...

I found many useful ideas from this article and I will be using them immediately.

almost 7 years, said...

Digital clocks don't work for my parents [moderate - advanced dementia], use a traditional clock. To be honest these steps should not be used by long distance caregivers and only for very very very mild cases of dementia. Automatic debit, turned out to be a problem I'm still trying to resolve. Two medicare supplemental insurance plans on auto deduct, an alarm system that is useless-they can't operate which is on a long term contract. Apparently when you sign the back of checks some small print allows automatic debit of the checking account until it is stopped. In my opinion, as much as many of us don't want to face up to it if you have to do these things to keep a demtia patient at home...they should probably NOT be at home any more. I found out the hard way.

almost 7 years, said...

Writing down daily To Do lists and grocery items.

almost 7 years, said...

Use of calendars and lists for keeping track of appointments.

about 7 years, said...

A large calendar with events listed was helpful. What is going on a particular day seems to bother him. Also the picture directory for later will help in remembering who people are. Thanks

about 7 years, said...

The calendar and the clock. I already do this, but there are some ideas included that I didn't think of.

about 7 years, said...

Hi anonymous, Thanks for your question. Alzheimer's and dementia can be quite difficult to handle day to day. Have you implemented some of these suggestions for her? If you'd like you can post your question in our Ask & Answer section, here: ( ). Good luck! -- Emily | Community Manager

about 7 years, said...

Good suggestions, but what if mother won't follow through?? Have tried many of these things, but she initially thinks something is a good idea but then ignores the suggestions.

about 7 years, said...

Thanks for your support. I love this site and the ideas that are given even though at times advice is seemingly naive. Something as simple automatic bill pay might work for a while then it falls apart. Dementia requires constant reevaluation and awareness because it is so hard to know what is really going on inside the brain of someone else.

about 7 years, said...

IMHO Under NO circumstances should bills be automatically deducted/paid for a person going into dementia even at the mild stage. I'm sorting out auto deductions from my parents checking account as I write this. It is an absolute nightmare. Mom has Medicare part D for two providers for two people, and literally thousands of dollars have been lost over the last few years. Had I known how bad it was I would have been paying bills earlier, but mom insisted she she had everything under control because they were autodeducted every month. Maybe I wanted to believe it too. My bad. This critical warning sign should not be pushed into silent autodeduct mode. Not being able to handle the monthly bills is a critical warning sign that something is W R O N G and to miss it becasue things are auto deducted and appear ok, is shameful on me. I'm certain I would have sorted this out earlier if there were no such thing as auto deduct.

about 7 years, said...

Hi LBN, Thanks for your comments. Luckily we have a wonderful local directory where you can find all sorts of great facilities and home health aids. ( I hope that helps! -- Best, Emily | Community Manager