Monday, June 14, 2010

8 Tips for Getting (and Staying) Organized When You Have Memory Problems

Memory problems can result from all sorts of medical issues - so it's worth seeing a doctor if you have concerns about your memory.

But here are some suggestions on how to stay organized even when your memory isn't working at its best. (Note: These tips are intended for those with manageable memory issues, not severe issues that put someone at serious risk of harm.) Many of these suggestions are useful to those without memory issues; they just take on some added urgency if memory is a concern.

1. Declutter

If you do misplace something, it will be easier to find if your space isn't cluttered.

2. Have a place for everything - and label it.

This may include labeling the outside of dresser drawers and kitchen cabinets. The Remind and Find labels shown above were designed for just this purpose - and of course you can find others, or create your own. [via organizer Shannon Zipoy]

You'll want to be especially sure to have set places for your glasses, keys, wallet, medications and important papers.

3. Use routines and checklists.

If there are things you need to do repeatedly - every day, for example - consider creating a checklist. A morning checklist and a before-bed checklist work well for some people.

Specialized checklists for how to do specific tasks can be helpful, too. My mother used to have a checklist that told her exactly how to take her insulin, and it worked fine for her, even though she sometimes had memory challenges in other areas.

4. Use a calendar, a to-do list, and a message-taking notebook.

A single calendar or planner that lists all your appointments is a critical tool. Your to-do list could be noted on the calendar/planner or kept separately; some people like to use a whiteboard to keep their to-do items in front of them.

It can also help to have a notebook where you record all your phone messages and notes from conversations with others, so you don't wind up with random pieces of paper all over the place. With the single-notebook approach, you know that if you forget what someone said, you can easily go look it up.

An alternative (or supplement) to the notebook might be a voice recorder; this is another good way to capture notes to yourself.

photo phone

5. Use whatever memory aid products are useful to you.

Some of the most common memory aids are weekly pill cases; there are many to choose from. There are all sorts of pill dispensers and reminders, too; see MaxiAids and for some ideas. BIndependent has some advice about selecting the medication aid that's best for you.

Timers of all sorts can be useful, too.

But I've been amazed at the range of products available - such as the Clarity photo phones, found here and here. [Via BIndependent, which also sells this phone] A glance at the list of memory aids at Gold Violin and Dynamic Living might give you some ideas, too.

key finder

6. Consider tools that help you find misplaced items.

ADDitude Magazine lists a few of the many products available, including the Find One, Find All key finder shown above.

7. Let people help.

Sometimes just a little help is all someone needs. My brother or I loaded my mom's weekly pill cases each week - but she didn't need any help remembering to take the pills once they were in the pill cases. She had her routines, and they served her well.

8. Mix and match all of the above into a solution that works for you.

Everyone's needs are different; experiment and find out what works for your particular situation!

Anyone else have suggestions? If something has worked particularly well for you or someone you know, I'd love to hear about it.


Cat said...

Great subject for a post, due to my long-term illness I've got occasional short term memory problems but also find that being hyper organised & free of clutter just makes living with my disability easier.

My pain meds are only taken when I need them so the normal pill organisers don't help me. However I can forget I've taken them sometimes & it's dangerous to take too many in too short a time period. Often my (throat)muscles are playing up so I can't (record)write or type down a note. Just recently I was lucky to pick up a Dymo Datemark really cheaply on eBay & it's proved a godsend, I just stamp it on a notebook & it automatically puts the time. Also useful for keeping a track of the time my helpers arrive & leaves.

I've also got a couple of small digital recorders for taking notes, including one that is a timer so I can record reminders on it.

Due to my disability I have other people helping me who don't necessarily know where I like things kept, in the kitchen for example. As well as labelling shelves I've actually stuck up photos beside things like the utensil rail so they can just refer to it instead of asking me where something goes. Saves so much time & frustration.

I've also got a good quality small whiteboard at my height (I'm a wheelchair user) in certain rooms so I can write down either reminders for myself or instructions for my helpers so they can see immediately if something needs done in that room.

Hope those tips help someone, I'm always looking for new ideas to enable me to be more independent :-)

Jeri Dansky said...

Wow, Cat - some great ideas here! Thanks so much for sharing.

Undead Molly said...

I think that your last tip is so important - to find what works for you. Just because a particular product or system saved your friend's (neighbor's, brother-in-law's, etc.) household from chaos doesn't mean it will work for you. Don't be afraid to try new things, but also don't feel like a failure or blame yourself if it doesn't work out. I often have some low-grade confusion and disorientation due to illness and I'm always trying new things to see what works best for me. Everyone has their own style and taxonomy.

For instance, Some people need to arrange their books by author, others by title, others by genre. Some people arrange their bookshelves according to the color of the covers! None of these are "right" or "wrong", it's simply whatever works best for you.

One of my things is that if a tool is ugly, I won't end up using it. I know you can appreciate that, Ms. Dansky! That's why I like your blog so much! I really need cork boards at certain points around my home, but they're usually painfully boring and ugly. So I'll get a sheet of cork and cut it to whatever size/shape I want, cover the surface with pretty fabric using spray adhesive, set it in a cool vintage thrift shop frame, and use whimsical thumbtacks to jazz up the otherwise drab situation. They can be any shape you want, not just rectangles. When I get sick of that look I can easily redecorate by covering up the fabric with another layer and repainting the frame! I can also make my own thumb tacks by gluing marbles or beach glass or whatever I want to regular tacks. This can also help with memory because I can make flashier ones to pin up urgent or time sensitive items.

I've also made my own "white" boards. Remember, any smooth pane of glass can be a dry erase board. I will (again) use nifty thrift store frames with unscratched glass. Instead of putting a picture in the frame, put in a piece of light-colored paper, or you can add a little border design to the paper if you'd like. Et voila! You just secure it to the wall and use regular dry erase markers. It writes and wipes off just as easily but looks more personal. :)

Amanda said...

This is a great post! I have a daughter that has a lot of problems with her memory and I will be implementing your tips into her daily life to try and help her!

Jeri Dansky said...

Undead Molly, thanks for bringing the do-it-yourself perspective to this post! And yes, I most certainly relate to the need for tools that are attractive!

Amanda, I'm so glad this was useful to you. Thanks for letting me know.