November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. We have the holidays approaching and I know that I and many others are looking to make new memories with friends, family, and friends who have become family. This is the time of year I force myself to truly stop and be more present with myself and those whom I love because I know time is not promised to any of us. Sadly, neither are memories, and very few of us consider this. Cognition and memory are a part of my field as a speech-language pathologist, and one of my favorite areas to work in. Usually, I am working with children who need help with executive functioning, but I’ve occasionally worked on memory recall, word retrieval, and providing compensatory strategies for those with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease. I thought I’d share some of my strategies with my readers going into this holiday season, so we can help make memories and help others hold onto memories old and new.
- Use music.
Have you ever heard a song and been immediately transported back in time, to a person or place or memory? Studies show that music is strongly correlated with memories and can help people remember specific events or people. I know for a fact that certain songs take me back to my childhood with my family singing, back to summer camp when the “song of the summer” was played on repeat in camp bunks. Hearing a song can evoke muscle memory as well–I still know choreography from 15 years ago the second I hear old recital tunes. Fill your days with music and attach moments to them. Those memories will surprise you at any and every turn.
- Take pictures.
We now live in an age of “pics or it didn’t happen.” While I know that’s not true, and some of my favorite memories have not been documented, pictures can improve recall, word retrieval, long and short term memory. Take pictures of family members and write their names on the bottom or back of the photo. Take pictures of objects for routines–real images or best, but digital images can be beneficial too. This can help someone know what is expected of them during a routine event (e.g. getting ready for the day, how to complete a daily task, etc.) or simply serve as a visual reminder of something on someone’s to-do list.
- Write it down.
If I don’t write down what needs to happen, it won’t get done. Digital reminders ust don’t work for me. When you write down what you need to do on paper, utilizing the motor function of writing, you’re also evoking muscle memory, forming a stronger cognitive connection more easily accessed than typing something into a notes app on a digital device. I personally color-code my to-do list by work, personal, and errands/chores. I did this in grad school with my notes and it helped me remember exactly what I needed to do. The power of visual reinfocement tied to motoric memory is strong!
- Record conversations.
Recording conversations is a great way to remind someone of what a conversation sounds like with their dear ones. There’s the recognition of their voice and the topic of conversation, which can bring someone right back to the scene of the event that was recorded. It also reinforces connection to the individuals in the recordings, and gives people something factual to tie to the people in the recordings, like that your best friend loves your dry sarcasm and ability to make them laugh, that your family member can’t stand golf but could watch baseball for hours on end. Remembering these little things can trigger other memories, like the time you took your friend’s sarcasm seriously and it resulted in a joke, or sharing sporting events with your family. It can also provide topics of conversation for the future.
- Take advantage of technology.
Technology is a tool. Use it to hold the pictures you’re trying to remember–create albums for topics or people you want to remember. Set alarms to remember to take medicine, run errands, or do things you enjoy. Use video chat to connect the voices from the recorded conversations to their owners. Type up stories or jokes you want other people to remember about you. Type up a list of things you like to do for fun or to de-stress so that you can remember strategies to bring joy back when you get stuck in frustration.
Alzheimer’s is something that hits close to home with me. If you are so inclined, please donate to the Alzheimer’s Association to help with research to find better treatment options. There are walks you can be a part of, and other ways to support research for this disease. My challenge to my readers this week is to form new memories and be mindful of the ones you’ve already formed. Share your own memory strategies in comments.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP