Loss of Short Term Memory

Tips to Help You Cope

The loss of short term memory (STML) can be difficult to manage in the home care setting. Learn a few tips here that have been successfully utilized in Dementia Care Units.

Short term memory refers to very recent, or active, memory. Loss of memory is devastating and frightening and can cause many frustrations if you are the one being continually asked the same question .... over and over and over.

If your loved one is forgetting close family members names or forgetting their homemade bread recipe they had been making their whole lives, you are dealing with a more advanced form of memory loss and not the loss of short term memory alone.

Care giver stress is heightened if you are dealing with a loved one that has a loss of short term memory. It is very important that you take time for yourself and try to remove yourself from the situation if you are feeling too much stress.

Date and Time

Many people dealing with the loss of short term memory frequently, and repeatedly, forget what day it is or what time it is. And when you remind someone with STML, they will often ask the question again within a few minutes.

We used a dry erase board and each day would write the month and day, season and weather. We had one in each patient's room. You could put one in their bedroom, and then a smaller one where they spend their day.

For time of day, we switched from digital clocks to an analog clock . The elderly did not grow up with digital readouts and are more likely to be able to understand the time of day by the pattern of the hands on a clock, rather than from the numbers alone.

Another quick and inexpensive alternative would be to use a daily calendar where you tear off each day as it passes. These are small but usually have a large date number on them. Make sure if you use this alternative that your loved one can easily read the calendar.


If there is a simple issue, like "When is Sarah coming to visit?" and it's two weeks away, try using another dry erase board that lists important upcoming events. You can easily do a countdown to the event as well.

Sometimes it is the daily schedule that is causing all the questions. If the daily schedule doesn't change much, you can create a permanent board they can refer to as well that lists what time activities are and what time meals are scheduled.

A larger, monthly calendar can be used if there events that happen routinely, like Bingo every Tuesday night, or a trip to the Senior Center every other Wednesday. Make sure to always mark "today" on the calendar so they can easily see what day it is and how far away the event is scheduled.

I would not recommend using a weekly calendar. Just like with the analog clock, the elderly are more likely to understand a monthly calendar instead of a weekly one. They are more likely able to understand the monthly calendar because of pattern more than reading the actual days.

Location of Objects

This is a tough one for all concerned. The best advice I can give is to make sure everything has a location. If you find that your mom repeatedly looses her reading glasses, try getting a chain attachment that goes around her neck.

Any object your family member routinely misplaces should have a dedicated location. The remote should always go, for example, beside their arm chair on a table and not carried from room to room.

Family Members and Phone Numbers

One of the best tips we used was actually brought to us by a family member that had utilized the technique at home. She created a large print board that went right by the telephone. It had the family members name and picture and then listed the phone number, area code included.

The reason this worked so well is that the picture would trigger memories that the name alone did not. It helped with long term memory as well.

Reminder Signs

Simple, clear directions can save a lot of headaches later on. Print the signs large enough that your loved one can easily read with or without their glasses.

You can use dry erase boards or make a permanent sign. For example, on the back of the bathroom door you could have a sign that said:

    Did You Remember to?

  1. Flush the toilet?
  2. Wash your hands?
  3. Turn off the lights?

Or a sign right inside the front door could read:

  1. Keys on table?
  2. Purse in closet?
  3. Front door closed and locked?

Whatever issue you are having, consider if it would be easier for both you and your family member if you had a reminder sign up and easily readable.

Remember that dealing with the loss of short term memory can be very frightening for the person suffering from it. Anything you can do to help ease that stress will help keep your loved one calm.

If they do get upset, the best thing you can do is anything that can trigger long term memory. If dad can't remember where the hammer is (and you may not want him using it anyway) and he is becoming upset and agitated, try switching the conversation to something he does remember.

Keeping people busy with things they do remember is almost always reassuring to them. Dad may not know where the hammer is, but if he was a builder, chances are he can still talk to you about projects he had completed. Ask him what his favorite project was and have him tell you about it. By the end of the conversation, chances are he will have forgotten that he was looking for the hammer in the first place.

Coping with the loss of short term memory can be exceedingly frustrating for family members. If you feel you are under too much stress, please contact a support group, engage family members to give you a break, or even consider respite care in a dementia unit for a week.

You can't do it all, all of the time.

Allow yourself to take a well deserved vacation from the stress of full time care giving.

If you have an issue regarding the loss of short term memory that hasn't been addressed either here or in the article about more advanced loss of memory, please contact me directly. I would be honored to be able to help you brainstorm some ideas that may work for your particular situation.

If you or your loved one is suffering from the STML usually experienced in the beginning stages of dementia, you may find the article on the best vitamins for memory useful for you.

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