What is memory?

Memory enables you to make links between the past and future. It informs your judgement, guides your behaviour, influences your ability to learn skills and contributes to your personal identity.

Memory is a system for the registration, storage and retrieval of information and can be likened to a filing system or a music system in which cassettes and CDs are recorded, stored and then retrieved and replayed when required.

Memory and MS

People with MS can have particular difficulty with short term or recent memory. You may generally be able to remember what happened a few days, weeks or years ago but can’t always remember a conversation 15 minutes earlier. You may go into a room for something and then forget why you are there.

"We have so many packets and tins in our cupboards because I forget what I need to buy, and just buy things I think we need"

People without MS experience this type of difficulty too, especially if they are distracted or tired, but for people with MS it is more of a regular occurrence.

Strategies to help

Modify your environment

Set places

"A place for everything and everything in its place" is good advice. Try establishing a specific place to keep things such as:

Use different coloured files, boxes with different compartments, remote control holders, medication boxes and so on. The most important thing is to get into the habit of putting “everything in its place”.

Be Aware


Get into routines

Doing a task or a sequence of tasks repeatedly can help them to become routine. For example, establishing a routine for taking your medication might be useful:

Decide on a place to put your medications; somewhere obvious where you will see them when you need to take them eg if you need to take them with food then the kitchen might be the most obvious place

You might find it useful to establish routines for other activities, such as household chores. Monday could be washday; Tuesday shopping; and Wednesday cleaning etc. You can then write these days into your diary or on to your calendar to help you remember what activities you need to do that day

Other examples of routines might be:


Download a timetable template

Break tasks down

Write tasks down, breaking them into the steps needed to complete the task. Tick items off as you complete each part

Remembering important conversations


Diaries are useful for both forward planning and remembering past events

It is important that when you use memory aids such as diaries, that you choose whatever is best for you and your lifestyle. For example:

When you decide on the right diary for you, here are some tips to help you:

can also be useful

Use your calendar to record important dates such as birthdays and appointments. Also jot down things you have to do on particular days, e.g. phone calls, pay bills

Tips to help you with your calendar:

Memory Aids

Memory aids and strategies can help to support your memory. There are many things that can be used as external memory aids. Some of the most common include:

How easy is it to use memory aids?

For people with memory problems getting used to using memory aids can be demanding, for example you might forget how to use them, leave them behind or forget why you have set a timer.

You might need lots of support and encouragement to use them and reassurance that you are doing things right.

It is important that you decide what aids are best for you – a good place to start is to build on those aids you used before your memory difficulties started e.g. diaries, lists, calendars.

Combine memory aids. For example, stick a post-it note on the timer when you set it so that when the timer buzzes you know why you set it.


Many people report they write lists but then forget where the list is! So...

If you write lists but they don’t really remind you of important things. Try the following:

Memory Techniques

Memory techniques such as Visualisation and Association can be very helpful

Visualisation and Association

Visualisation and association is a method of remembering. You link the thing you want to remember with an a thing to be remembered to a method of remembering it. It is important you create your own associations as tailoring information to your own life and interests will help you to remember it more easily

Things can be associated by:

e.g: remembering peoples' names

There is a famous example from research literature which involves trying to remember a red haired lady called Angela Webster (Wilson, 1987).

Using Visualisation/Association to remember a name involves transforming the name into visual images. You need to form a mental picture including these images and the features of the person. Using the lady mentioned above, her name breaks down quite readily into parts: an angel, a web, and a star. She has red hair so you can imagine a web made of red hair, then place the angel and star in the web. When you next meet this lady you can visualise the mental image you have created and this should prompt you to recall her name.

A person I worked with could not remember names (including mine!) so I taught them this strategy. They went away and when I next saw them they called me Dr Rose. I asked them how they had remembered it. They told me that they were planting onions in their garden and thought the onion was a bit like me – round! So they created an image of onions and roses being planted together and that helped them remember my name. So this strategy can work!

See also:

Helpful Memory Tips