Devices for Memory Loss

Remembering daily events, activities, and routines is difficult for all of us at times. Some conditions associated with aging can result in memory loss ranging from forgetting to take medication at a designated time, to not being able to remember one’s own address or getting lost in one’s own neighborhood. Persons who have dementia with short-term and long-term memory may fail to recognize a familiar face, take care of personal hygiene, or speak effectively.

There are many ways to assist persons who have memory loss, including techniques to aid memory and helpful products that can be purchased in local stores or easily made at home. Each person has different needs, so devices and techniques should be tailored to suit the individual.

Home-Made Modifications

The home will be more familiar if the furniture and other items are not rearranged. Small modifications to trigger memory can also be useful. “Home-made” memory aids are often good solutions for several types of memory problems. For example, checklists can help remind a person to do certain tasks. A checklist placed inside the door to a home may include items like “Make sure I have the key” and “Make sure the stove is turned off”. Home-made labels can also help people to remember the contents of a cabinet, drawer, or closet. For example, a label that says “socks” or a picture of socks can be placed on a dresser that holds socks. Labels are also useful for the names of people in a photograph. This can help a person with memory loss to recognize family and friends.

Persons who have memory loss may have difficulty remembering the time of day, day of the week, month, or year. Forgetting these things can become increasingly frustrating for both the person with memory loss and his or her caregiver. A prominently displayed digital clock and easy-to-read calendar can help remind a person of the day and time. Marking routines, appointments, special occasions, and future events on the calendar can also be helpful. A cue card with a home address and phone number that is carried at all times will ensure that the person always has necessary information in an emergency.

Simple Devices

Commercially-available devices can also help a person with memory loss. Similar to the cue card previously mentioned, an identification bracelet including pertinent information can be a reminder of where home is. Portable phones are helpful if a person is lost and needs to get help quickly. Small recorders can be pre-recorded with reminder messages. When set ahead of time, a smaller timer can prevent a person from forgetting about an activity that needs to be done at a certain time. Timers are especially useful when cooking: they can remind a person to stir a pot or take something out of the oven when it is done. Timers with memory recorders can be especially useful if a person cannot remember what he or she initially set a timer for. Messages such as “It’s time to eat dinner” or “Turn on the hall light” can be pre-recorded into the timer, and then set to play at designated times.

Many older persons need to take one or more kinds of medication on a daily basis. Memory loss causes many people to forget to take their pills or causes confusion as to which pills to take and when to take them. Medication organizers can help eliminate this problem. Some styles store pills for seven days, others for two weeks or a month. For persons who need to take medication at different times throughout the day, there are organizers with compartments for morning, afternoon, and evening for each of the days. Pill alarms hold medication and sound an alarm when it is time to take it.

What a Caregiver Can Do

Being a caregiver for a person who has Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can be very challenging and, sometimes, frustrating. There are, however, things that caregivers can do that will help lessen the challenge they face. As already mentioned, small home modifications can help trigger memory, but the overall physical environment should remain the same. Maintaining the same daily schedule of activities can help a person to recognize the pattern of a routine and even anticipate a future activity. Keeping heavily-traveled areas in the home well-lit, especially at night, can help prevent injury. A person with dementia should also have regular medical check-ups. Simplifying things can help to prevent a person with memory loss from becoming confused. This is especially true when speaking to a person with dementia or asking a person with dementia to do something. For example, avoiding complicated language and unnecessary detail when speaking to a person with memory loss will make understanding easier. Cuing a person as to what you are doing is also helpful. For example, a caregiver might say things like, “We are in the kitchen to make lunch” or “We are at the store to buy soap” to remind a person of the surroundings and the reasons for being where they are. A caregiver should also cue the person with memory loss when activities are over by saying things like, “We are finished with lunch and are going to take a walk” or “We have bought soap and now we are going back home.”

Persons with Alzheimer’s Disease or severe dementia may have a tendency to wander. They may leave the house and become lost, even in their own neighborhood. This can be extremely upsetting and frustrating to family members and loved ones. Caregivers and family members of these individuals must often watch closely to ensure that they do not leave the home and wander about. A wander alert system can lend assistance to this task by constantly telling a caregiver or family member the location of a person who is prone to wonder from his or her home. A designated area can be programmed prior to use, and a small radio transmitter worn by the person who wanders immediately alerts the receiver if the person has left the prescribed area. A wander alarm may also be useful. Similar to an alarm home security system that goes off when someone enters a home, a wander alarm goes off when someone leaves a home. This alerts a caregiver that the individual with memory loss may be wandering away.

Further Information

Project LINK is a free, national information service that mails catalogs and other product information from companies that make or sell helpful products. Since no names or addresses are released to companies, the confidentiality of the consumer is protected. To join Project LINK, call (voice/TTY/TDD) (800) 628-2281 or write to:

Project Link
Center for Assistive Technology
University at Buffalo
515 Kimball Tower
Buffalo, NY 14214

The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Aging offers a number of videos, pamphlets, and articles, some directed at health care professionals and others designed for consumers. To receive a free product catalog, call (voide/TTY) (800) 628-2281.

The Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center can offer advice and tips to caregivers of persons with dementia. To contact them, write or call:

The Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center
320 East Superior Street
Searle 11-450
Chicago, Illinois 60611-3008
Phone: (312) 908-9339
Fax: (312) 908-8789

Care Electronics manufactures the WanderCARE Patient Monitoring System. To contact them, write to:

Care Electronics, Inc.
5741 Arapahoe Road, Unit 2A
Boulder, Colorado 80303-1341

The Wander Guard system is a wander alarm system. For more information on this device, call (800) 824-2996 or write to:

Wander Guard, Inc.
P.O. Box 80238
Lincoln, Nebraska 68501

Sammons Preston sells many assistive devices. For a catalog, call (800) 323-5547, or write to:

Sammons Preston
P.O. Box 5071
Bolingbrook, Illinois 60440-5071