Managing memory slip-ups

Where did I leave my keys? Did I lock the front door? What is the name of that person I met last night? After a certain age, it seems everyone battles these nagging and sometimes embarrassing memory lapses.

“These moments may seem like an unfortunate part of aging, but they can happen to people of all ages,” says Lydia Cho, a psychologist and neuropsychologist with Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital. “But don’t let them stress you out or make you question your ability to live an active and engaging life.”

While recurring or worsening memory issues always should be checked out (see “When does memory become a problem?”), everyday lapses can be managed. Here are some tips on how to overcome some common memory situations.

When does memory become a problem?Lifestyle factors like stress, depression, poor sleep, isolation, an unhealthy diet, and lack of exercise can contribute to memory issues. “Examine your situation to determine if any may play a role, and then see if your memory improves when they are addressed,” says psychologist Lydia Cho with McLean Hospital. Still, it’s best to err on the side of caution and consult your doctor if you or someone else notices memory problems becoming more frequent or severe.


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When you meet someone for the first time, make the connection meaningful. “Many times we forget a name because we didn’t notice it being said or don’t make an effort to try to remember it,” says Cho.

Repeat the name back and immediately link it to something that may help trigger recall, such as the person’s appearance or job. Or associate the name with someone who has a similar name, like a celebrity, relative, or movie character.

You can also try to connect the name with a rhyming word, a song, or an image. For example, link the name Sandy with the idea of a beach, and imagine Sandy on the beach. Use as much detail as possible — picture her walking along the water’s edge or on a beach that’s familiar to you.

Finally, write down the name and the person’s relation to you (for example, your neighbor’s sister) in your smartphone or in a memory notebook specially dedicated to things you want to remember.

Routine tasks

Do you ever question whether you locked a door before bed or turned off the stove after cooking? “We often forget routine behaviors because we are not fully engaged when we do them,” says Cho. An excellent way to remind yourself of a completed task is to talk to yourself while doing it. Say it out loud, like “I’m locking the front door,” or “I’m putting the clothes in the dryer.”

Everyday items

Always put things you regularly use in the same place. For example, set up dedicated areas near the front door, in the living room by your favorite seat, and in the bedroom, and use these spaces for all your vital objects like phone, keys, glasses, and medicine. For objects you don’t handle regularly, make a point to focus on the location where you place them and, again, tell yourself out loud what you are doing; for instance, say “I’m placing the scissors in the kitchen drawer below the coffeepot.” If you still don’t think you’ll remember, write down the location, or take a picture with your smartphone.

Online information

Online user names and passwords can easily get forgotten, but it’s not safe to write them down where others might find them. Instead, try an online password manager, like LastPass (, Dashlane (, or 1Password ( You store all your information securely in one place, and it only requires a single password to access from any computer, tablet, or smartphone.

To-do lists

Smartphones also are great for scheduling reminders for tasks and appointments, and their alarms can be set up for one-time or recurring events. You can also email yourself reminders, or leave yourself a note where you are guaranteed to see it, like the refrigerator door, kitchen table, or bathroom mirror.

Another approach is to create a visual reminder: put an object associated with the task in a prominent place. For instance, if you need to order concert tickets, leave a picture of the artist near your phone or on your memory table.

  1. Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
  2. Matthew 18:15
    If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
  3. Ephesians 1:7-8
    In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace, which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence.
  4. Luke 6:37
    Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
  5. 1 Peter 3:9
    Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
  6. Romans 6:23
    For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
  7. John 3:16-17
    For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
  8. Matthew 18:21-22
    Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
  9. Joel 2:13
    Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
  10. Psalm 65:3
    Though we are overwhelmed by our sins, you forgive them all.
  11. Romans 4:5
    But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.

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