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Memory Problems

Memory Problems

Memory is an important brain function that allows us to live our day to day lives. A memory has to be learnt and then stored in the right place so we can find it again.

Our memory can be affected by many things:

  • Stress
  • Being too busy
  • Worry and anxiety
  • Low mood or depression
  • Feeling ill
  • Poor sleep
  • Medication, such as chemotherapy
  • Disease
  • Abnormal salts in the blood

We often notice that we have a difficulty with our memory when:

  • We find it hard to learn new names or remember old names
  • Remembering where objects are (e.g. Keys)
  • Going into a room and forgetting what you have gone there for 
  • Learning new information.

How Can I Help My Memory?

Memory strategies are ways of thinking about or storing information which might help you remember it more easily. It is important not to put pressure on yourself, as worry and anxiety can make our memory worse.

Remembering Information

  • Minimise distractions when learning new information (e.g. turn the radio off)
  • Listen or read carefully
  • Repeat the information back to yourself in your head and out loud.
  • Make associations. For example, if you want to remember the name of someone you have met, try and make a connection between them and someone else you know with the same name.
  • Group information into chunks: E.g. if you are trying to remember a phone number, think of it as 635 and 820, rather than 6-3-5-8-2-0.
  • If you have a list of items to remember, make a ‘keyword’ out of the first letter of each item (e.g., Chocolate, Rice, Apples, Bread = CRAB).

Remembering To Do Something

  • Make routines out of daily activities, such as getting ready in the morning or taking tablets. Do things in the same order and at the same time and place each day.
  • Make a silly picture of the action in your mind (e.g. Remember to brush your teeth before going out – a picture of a giant toothbrush dancing as it brushes the front door).
  • Leave notes to yourself. Big, bright and eye-catching ones.
  • Use a diary or tablet / iPad to write down where you need to be, when and why, or for storing names and addresses. Keep it with you all the time and establish a routine for checking it every day. This can help if you go out and forget what you wanted to do or where you needed to be.
  • Put a calendar somewhere that is easy to see. Circle the present day in the morning and cross it off before you go to bed. You could use an electronic clock with the time, day, month and date on them.
  • Put a reminder on your mobile phone.
  • Ask your pharmacists to make up blister packs with all your medication already organised in the different compartments. Use an alarm to prompt you to take them (e.g. on your mobile phone).
  • Use lists such as ‘to do today’ or ‘questions I should ask the doctor’.

Remembering Where Things Are

  • Keep a set place to put things.
  • Write a list of where you keep important things, and put it somewhere obvious, like by your mirror.

If You Can’t Remember Something

  • Try to picture yourself in the same place you were when you learnt the information you’ve forgotten, or where you were when you remember last having the item you’ve lost.

Dealing with Frustration

Many people who experience memory problems say that they get frustrated with themselves. The problem with frustration is that it makes it harder to think clearly ... so it gets harder to remember and that is even more frustrating! You might think of this as a ‘vicious cycle’ of frustration. Frustration can ‘jam’ recall, letting go of the frustration and relaxing can help with memory recall.

Here is a way to relax that might be helpful:

  • Breathe deeply
  • Breathe in for 3 counts then out for 3 counts
  • Make sure you’re breathing from your stomach – imagine you’re inflating a balloon in it!
  • Say a calming word to yourself (e.g. ‘relax’)
  • If feelings of frustration arise, acknowledge them and let them pass. Imagine the feelings drifting by like leaves on a stream.

Sources of Support

If you would like further support for coping with your memory you can find this from the following services: 

  • Useful Websites
  • Memory aids
  • Dealing with frustration
  • Your GP 
  • Leigh Porter, Velindre Patient and Carer Information and Support Co-ordinator: For information on support services in your local area – 029 20196132.
  • Your Consultant or Clinical Nurse Specialist can provide you information about the services available to you and request a referral to Clinical Psychology and Counselling team at Velindre Cancer Centre. 

This leaflet was written by health professionals. The information contained in this leaflet is evidence based. It has been approved by doctors, nurses and patients. It is reviewed and updated every 2 years.