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Caregiver tip sheet for memory enhancement

by Kathryn Kilpatrick

Whenever you are busy, stressed, juggling a lot of activities or preoccupied, the possibility of memory difficulties can increase. Caregivers can certainly relate to all of those situations so taking a few minutes to implement some of these suggestions may be helpful. A great starting place is to focus on a more positive attitude which can lead to some proactive choices for memory enhancement.

There are several keys to memory fitness and each of them are often a more significant challenge for caregivers. Notice what you do in each of these circumstances within your daily routine. Consider which suggestions might be most helpful considering your circumstances and start there, one step at a time.

Paying Attention


If you pay attention for five to ten seconds you are more likely to remember information. Task switching does not promote this habit but there are times when caregiving does not allow for you to stay focused as you need to respond to something more urgent.

Tip: Notice when your attention is wandering. Sometimes you should just take a break from a particularly frustrating task. Make sure that you are eating regularly, do not skip breakfast and make healthy food choices. To prevent dehydration, make sure you are drinking enough water every day. These lifestyle choices are important for maintaining your ability to focus.

Example: You are organizing the medications in a pill box for the week. Someone calls and you feel that the break would be a good idea. Ask the person to wait for a moment if you need to quickly finish with a certain medication or day of the week. You are less likely to make a mistake and it will not take as long to figure out where you left off. If you are at a place where it is not easy to stop, suggest to the caller that you will call back in a few minutes. This was a lesson I learned when I was making six coffee cakes at the same time. The bowls were lined up and I measured the sugar and did it for all the bowls, then moved on to the next ingredient. You may be able to tell if you have added the eggs yet or not. I took a phone call and found it was much harder to see where I left off adding the baking powder.

Organization


When time is limited, even if you are typically a more organized person, it is hard to keep on top of all that needs to be done. The maze of paperwork or items collecting in the rooms seems to be overwhelming at times. Getting started usually gets postponed and the piles only gets larger.

Tip: Put aside a short period of time to begin your sorting process. Instead of trying to sort every item in a room or all the pieces of paper, gather several boxes, designate them for a particular category and sort through items. When new items come in, instead of adding to the pile, you can put things that are similar in the same place.


Example: One of my clients never seemed to have the time to sort through her mail, although her intentions were good. Something always came up that required her immediate attention. She identified the main categories then labeled her boxes accordingly. She had a box for bills to pay, follow-up items, things to read, miscellaneous and a basket for trash. Once she set up the system, it was easier to take a few minutes and pick the items in one of the boxes to handle. In addition, if she needed to locate something specific, she did not have to keep sorting through everything over and over.

Memory Strategies


There are tried and true techniques to help you recall information. If you are told some thing you need to remember while you are in the midst of a task, your chances of recalling it are reduced unless you find a way to record it. If your mind is swirling with information or you are preoccupied with a worry, you will create a similar problem.

Tip: Find a place to record the information, either on paper, in your mind, or on an electronic device.


Example: One of my friends always carries a small notebook with her and when she sees or hears something she wants to refer to later, she takes an extra moment and writes it down in the notebook. She now dates the entry and will write a little more detail so when she looks at it later, she knows what she meant. One of my outpatient therapy clients needed some memory strategies and he was not a person to use electronic devices. His technique was to make sure he always wore a shirt with a pocket to carry an index card in case he needed to write down something important.

Stress


When you are stressed, hormones are released that interfere with your ability to recall information. Although a little bit of stress is not a bad thing, unrelenting stress over a significant period of time has many adverse implications. Caregivers generally are not the best in putting self-care near the top of their list of priorities.

Tip: Exercise is an excellent way to help reduce stress hormones. That is often one of the first things to go when a person has too much to do and too little time. Even if you cannot do your entire routine, make time for five to ten minutes here and there, increasing it whenever you can.


Example: When my patient's daughter felt stressed, she would call a neighbor to stay with her dad for about twenty or so minutes while she took a quick walk in the neighborhood. If the weather was bad, she would use the treadmill or exercise bicycle in the basement. She had room monitors and took one with her so she could hear her dad if he had a problem and was calling for her.

For additional information, refer to the articles and blogs on Does Stress and Overload Impact a Caregiver's Memory or the Memory Fitness blog series.

" The true art of memory is the art of attention." Samuel Johnson.