Wait, what was I asking?
March 12, 2009 6:16 PM   Subscribe

Reverse-Memento-Filter: I can remember everything except what it was that I just stood up to do. Please help me with extreme short term memory loss before I lose what's left of my mind.

I've been experiencing SEVERE, I mean REALLY SEVERE short term memory loss. I need some serious help. This is a recent phenomenon, which may or may not be related to medication. I'm scheduled to receive an *increase* of my meds this week, and I really, really need to find some ways to cope - or at least keep from inadvertently killing myself - if the problem does indeed worsen.

So, specifically, what I'm having trouble with is remembering my intentions. We're talking things that happened between 10 seconds and three minutes ago. I'm sure that until I got a pill box, there were a few days when I took my medication twice because I couldn't remember if I had just taken it or not. One day, I lost my wallet only to come home and remember that I had left it at work, and then shut the door behind me and thought I had left my keys in the apartment. Thankfully, when I was calling 'moonMan to let me in after work, I felt the keys in my pocket, but it was not my finest hour.

I need help with the details. I have a small box I've put by the doorway for the keys, my wallet, and other things that I NEED to leave the house. I get home, they go in the box. I leave, I have to grab them so that then I KNOW that I have them and I'm not just guessing.

However, even with these failsafes, I'm still struggling. This week, for the first time in over a year, I just totally forgot to take my medication. I remembered once I had left the house that I hadn't taken it, but by that point it was too late.

Please, please hope come up with some systems to keep from falling apart. I'm really bad with routine, but I have a great visual memory. Also: any suggestions can not involve the use of any computer program or alarm. I don't use computers for my job, and I *do* use cell-phone based alarms for the job. I also can't afford to be any more crippled than I already would be if I, somewhat predictably, were to forget my phone. I'd prefer not to have post-its all over my home, which is what I fear it will come to, but if that's how it goes it beats being unmedicated and wandering the streets without my keys or wallet.
posted by grapefruitmoon to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Would a notepad and watch do it? Right things down and the date and time you did them, so you have visual record of what you've done.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:42 PM on March 12, 2009

You can get a personal voice recorder fairly cheap these days. I've often thought of getting one specifically for this purpose.
posted by torquemaniac at 6:46 PM on March 12, 2009

Sorry if this is a little flippant, but I'm 3/4 serious. I've found that doorways--common doorways--tend to wipe my memory clean. Before you go through any door, stop a second and take inventory. Anything you have to do or intend to do on the other side, get it in the front of your mind, then pass through.
posted by bricoleur at 7:05 PM on March 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

My SO carries one of these Field Notes pocket-sized notebooks everywhere. They could easily fit into a purse or back pocket. Could you get in the habit of checking in with yourself every hour (or however frequently) to note "took medication X" or whatever else you need to remember in a small notebook so that you have a record you can check?

For the things you need to remember to take with you, can you use a brightly colored bag to keep the stuff together (i.e., if the bag is with you, your phone and whatever else are definitely with you, then when you get home you put the bag in the box by the door)?
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:09 PM on March 12, 2009

Visual memory--what about a digital camera and taking photos of things you're supposed to do? Say a photo of your meds with the day of the week and the time you're supposed to take them. Then compile those photos into a small book, which you can carry with you and flip through.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:15 PM on March 12, 2009

I'm sorry that this isn't an answer to your question, but have you spoken to a doctor about this? You state that it might be related to your medication, but if that's not the case then it could be an indication of a problem that should be looked at ASAP. It's your brain - be careful with it. And I wish you the best, it sounds like an infuriating problem.
posted by you're a kitty! at 7:20 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

just a thought... are you also suffering from insomnia? Too little sleep for extended periods of time can really mess with attention and short term memory. Since lots of medications can disrupt sleep patterns I thought it might be worth mentioning.
posted by Weaslegirl at 7:28 PM on March 12, 2009

I'm like this without medication and it's 10x worse in the morning. I would estimate I forget one important thing (like my glasses, lunch or wallet) at least 3 times a week. The only two things that make life doable are lists and routine. Set up a written list of tasks and read it every night and every morning (I often forget, which is sad). If I read the list before I leave the house I usually realize I have forgotten to do half the things on it, like bring my phone with me. I have a tray by the door for my stuff like you do and also have spare keys stashed various places for the times I forget to bring mine. (I am super good at breaking into houses because I usually forget to put the spare key back after I use it). I also stop before doorways and do a quick pocket-check for needed items as suggested above. I have cash and food at work for when I forget both. I still forget shit all the time but I like to think it teaches me to be self-reliant. And scrounging coins for gas is a good chance to clean out my car. Right.

Funnily enough people think I am very organized because I make a lot of lists. ha!
posted by fshgrl at 7:30 PM on March 12, 2009

Response by poster: Small follow-up: I'm under supervision by a neurologist, a GP, and a sleep specialist. I am confident that whatever is going on is not symptomatic of a larger problem based on the fact that given my underlying condition (epilepsy), going to the doctor is kind of my hobby.

And yes, I do get enough sleep. Oddly enough, this is really the FIRST time in my life that THAT has been true. Too bad I can't blame my poor memory on lack of sleep!

Lists sound good, as do notebooks. Now if I could just remember what I needed to put on the lists... keep the suggestions coming!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:39 PM on March 12, 2009

I'd get the notebook and make sure to keep it on your person, someplace convenient, and always the same place--shirt pocket, or pants pocket, or wherever. Keep the pen with it, perhaps clipped to it.

Then, have no shame in interrupting what you are currently doing to write down a necessary future action. It's far more likely that you'll be able to write down "get milk before 3:00 appointment", put the book away, and then realize from the half-completed quiche in front of your that you should go back to cooking.

The notebook is going to be useless if you have to remember "write FOO down in the notebook". So, just do it. You'll look at little goofy sometimes, but you'll remember what you wanted to do.

Basically, you need to modify your behavior as much as your accessories. Whatever method you use to overcome your short-term memory issues, from post-its on the bathroom mirror to voice-activated wearable computers, you actually have to use it. That recording device needs to be linked to your mind as quickly and cleanly as you can do it. You can't just have a notebook in your pocket and expect to remember things because of it.
posted by Netzapper at 8:28 PM on March 12, 2009

Put bright Post-Its with lists of what you need beside each door. You might rush past it a few times, but I bet it catches you more often and serves as a reminder to slow down and consciously take stock. Refresh them often. The field notebooks above sound like a great idea. Tape a list on top of your pill box, with check boxes printed next to each dose day/time. I bet it's frustrating to be on medicine that makes you forgetful like this. You can cope with it, it's just going to take a few tricks.
posted by juliplease at 9:33 PM on March 12, 2009

Best answer: You can go further with the notebook idea and make a little chart on each page. Make a checklist of things you need to have/do, at certain times, like take your meds, or bring your keys, or feed the cat, whatever, and make checklists. This might streamline the process a little bit. Alternate the checklist pages with blank pages for daily chronological notes.
posted by Mizu at 9:56 PM on March 12, 2009

Make your routine more rigid. Like to the point where you know exactly what you are going to east 3 weeks from now, what you are going to be watching on TV that night... So checklists, planning and rigid routine. Good luck, I'm sure you are going to be able to figure it out.
posted by bigmusic at 10:21 PM on March 12, 2009

I have an old Treo that is no longer useful as a phone (never was good for talking), but has a program on it with lists you can check stuff off. I use it for groceries, but it works well for other things. To renew the list, select to display checked items, then uncheck the things you need to do now/today. Check them off as you go. You only have to type stuff in once, this way.

I have this problem occasionally. I find myself in the kitchen, and don't remember why I went there! Maybe habit/routine take over, and I find myself, for example, making coffee, after I've had my quota, then remember the real reason I'm there.

This sort of thing is infamous as a side effect of smoking certain herbs. It is also a common problem for people under stress, or simply very busy. When my mind is on something, I can't remember to pay attention to my electric toothbrush, and stick to the 30-second rule.

But for remembering the essential thing of 'stuff that goes in my pockets', I just made a list into a chant, and it served me well. Funny enough, most of the items are obsolete now, but the chant still pops into my head and reminds me to check things.
posted by Goofyy at 11:02 PM on March 12, 2009

I think I have a good solution.. Set aside 45 minutes, or 60 minutes, every day, to train your memory. Memorize poems. Stuff related to your work. Your actions during the day. Words in a foreign language you always wanted to learn. The point is that you should treat your memory like muscles - when you lift a dumbell 60 times, your muscle mass will grow a little bit the next day. You can train specifically for short term memory by not trying to remember the things you learned the day before, but even if you do train long term memory, the short term one is also trained to some extent. I think other "tricks" can be useful but their usefulness is limited because you have to remember to do the trick, and when you forget, you are doubly frustrated. This method is slower and harder but it goes to the root of the issue.
posted by rainy at 11:28 PM on March 12, 2009

Best answer: Oh, I forgot: inversions in yoga are very good for memory. Especially the headstand - once I was doing this exercise every day for about a month and my memory was far better than ever before (or after, for that matter..). However, headstand may be a risk for epilepstics? Check your doctor.. shoulder stand is safer, though, but also less effective.
posted by rainy at 11:42 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I use the following two techniques to deal with garden-variety short-term memory failures. I don't know whether they'd be helpful for your more severe problems.

1. For prevention: When I'm thinking of something that I'll need to remember in a short amount of time, I try to involve as many of my senses as possible. The typical example is: as I'm pulling into the grocery store parking lot, I think of a couple items that aren't on my list, and for whatever reason it's not convenient to write them down. I'm least likely to forget the new items if I imagine them intensely, appealing to all five senses. So if the items are orange juice and kitty litter, first I imagine the flavor of orange juice, the color of it, the sound of it splashing into the glass or sloshing in the carton, the smell of it (not much), and the tactile sense of the cold, condensation-damp orange juice carton in my hand. Then I shift my focus to the kitty litter. I imagine the texture of it, the smell, the sound as it pours into the plastic litter pan, the heaviness of the box, and yes, I even imagine what I think it might taste like (bleh). Once I get into the store, the phrases "orange juice" and "kitty litter" might not come to mind readily, but if I pause a moment I can call back to mind the tactile memory of an orange juice carton and the icky idea of tasting kitty litter.

If I were trying to remember "yes, I have already taken my pills" then I might try to reinforce all the senses at the time of taking the pills: shake the pill bottle to hear them rattle, swallow them with a distinctive-tasting drink that I wouldn't consume except when taking pills, etc. "Have I heard the pill bottle rattle in the last hour?" is a different question from "Have I taken my pills?" If you actively use all five senses, maybe you give yourself five times the likelihood of remembering an event?

2. For that "I know I walked into this room for a reason; what was it?" problem: A friend taught me to physically go back to the place where I formed the forgotten intention. One day I was using the bathroom at her house, and thought of a question I wanted to ask her. When I got back out to the living room, the question was gone, and no amount of racking my brain would bring it back. The friend told me to go back to the bathroom. I did, and the question came back to mind again. So, if you can't remember what you just stood up to do, does it help if you sit down again?
posted by Orinda at 12:05 AM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: For the medication: get one of those compartmentalised pill containers labelled with the days of the week. Obvious when you've taken them for the day.
posted by tracicle at 1:28 AM on March 13, 2009

So this is pretty much how I live my life. It's amazing I get anything done. But, for example, I totally forgot to get my kid's tooth from under his pillow the other night. Darn tooth fairy!

Anyway, one thing was a huge help for me: I got a nice moleskin notebook and started writing down *everything*. I now have separate categories: work; life to do; stuff to buy; long term; reference.

If I'm at home and I think of a work thing, I write it down. If I'm at work and think of something I need to buy at the store after work, I write it down. Too often I'd find myself walking by the pharmacy thinking, "I now I needed something there, but what was it?" This doesn't happen anymore--in fact, the act of writing this stuff down (I think David Allen calls it "capture") is enough to keep this garbage out of my head. I seem to remember it better and I'm more able to concentrate of what's really important.

In your situation, since you have the same stuff every single day, I'd actually seriously consider another approach: a daily checklist with space for extra stuff. I don't mean a list of stuff you need to do every day (that might help though), but an actual list you print out every single day.

I worked at a very well run call center that did this. Yours could look something like this:

At home, before 8am
___ Shower
___ Take medicine
___ Eat breakfast
___ Collect wallet and keys

At work
___ Etc.

Then you won't need to remember this stuff yourself because you'll have a system to do it for you.

Good luck. (I've sometimes forgotten to shampoo my hair when in the shower.)
posted by bluedaisy at 2:36 AM on March 13, 2009

Response by poster: These are wonderful suggestions! I think the daily checklist/notebook idea is probably going to be the most useful/easiest to integrate into my life.

I do a lot of yoga, so I'll definitely check and see if inversions are something that I can do (I've been meaning to ask my neuro about that anyway).
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:05 AM on March 13, 2009

If you're interested in turning yourself upside down but you don't want to put undue stress on your neck, try an inversion table. I bought mine second-hand for $100. Hanging upside down like a little bat is fun.
posted by flabdablet's sock puppet at 9:06 AM on March 13, 2009

Best answer: What I find most useful, and I have mentioned several times here, is to be more mindful at the exact point I am about to do something forgettable. This sounds odd, so let me explain. A good example would be putting something down. If I have something in my hand, say my wallet, I will. not. let. myself put it down unless it is somewhere where I absolutely, 100%, know I can find it again. For the wallet, this is actually one of a few places. A nightstand, or my back pocket. Nothing else. Another example I use is my old-style gas cap on my car--it's not attached, so it simply does not leave my hand until it is back screwed on.

You can generalize using objects to help you remember things. One thing I do a lot is dry cast iron pots for a bit on the stove after I wash them. Easy to forget the stove's on, so I usually just hang on to the dishtowel until 5 minutes later I go to set down the dishtowel (why do I have this?) and--aha! I go turn off the stove.

What you have to do for this is to cultivate a habit of never setting things down without thinking about it first.

Based on your particular problem, it doesn't look like a notebook's going to help you a lot for that time span, as it's pretty tedious to write stuff down that you're only going to consult in a few minutes. Could work if you work at it, I suppose.

You need to create a habit or habits. I mentioned deliberateness in putting down objects. The "going through doorway" idea is good, too. Another thing to perhaps try is to have a habit upon getting up--literally standing from a seated/lying position. Pause, and remember what you're going to do. Go through the list in your head, and keep it in your short term memory until you're actually doing it. If there's several things, just keep repeating them, gradually knocking off items as they get done.

Good luck, I deal with this all the time. Shoot me a note if you'd like.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:09 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I live by notepads and an appointment book (which has a notes section). The appointment book is the master, where all work and life things get written in one place, but I make sure to have note pads by the phone and by the computer, and we also have a little wet erase board in the kitchen. I can jot things down as they occur and then transfer to the appointment book. I also have a little leather notepad holder/pen combo, like this one, which I love as it easily fits into your pocket, purse or backpack.

Also, got to love the pill cases that have sections not only for each day but that have each day subdivided as well help to keep track of pills that must be taken daily or at intervals throughout the day.

Re keys, my husband's keys are on a lanyard and that stays clipped either to his belt loop or to his backpack (lots of purses and packs even have a ring inside where you can clip your keys.)
posted by gudrun at 10:43 AM on March 13, 2009

Do carry a cell phone? If so, I urge you to use the service provided by www.ohdontforget.com. You go to their site, enter your cell phone number, then type in any message or reminder you need to give yourself. You can set the time and date for delivery, up to a year in advance, and it will text you with your reminder. This is wonderful for when you're at your computer at work, for instance, and think, "I have to remember to get the roast out tonight to defrost." You can immediately go to the site and set the reminder for the roast to text you when you're home later, and you don't have to think about it any more.

Another thing I do to combat the "what did I just come into the basement for?" syndrome is to make up a little song that I keep singing to myself until I complete the task, get the item, whatever. For instance, if I need to replenish the toothpaste and soap in the bathroom, I need to go down to the storage shelves in the basement to get them. Using the Flintstones theme song, I might sing (to myself!), "Toothpaste! Soap and toothpaste! Yes, I'm going to the basement now . . . " Goofy, I know, but it works for me.

Good luck!
posted by plinsky at 12:18 PM on March 15, 2009

Response by poster: This is wonderful for when you're at your computer at work, for instance, and think, "I have to remember to get the roast out tonight to defrost." You can immediately go to the site and set the reminder for the roast to text you when you're home later, and you don't have to think about it any more.

This could work wonderfully for a lot of people, but I specifically indicated that I don't use computers at work and that I'm so far so dependent on my phone for work-based alarms that I can't afford to become any MORE dependent on it, so cell-phone based alarms are just not a possibility.

(I'm a nanny and alarms are all that stand between me and total chaos. Potty time... nap time... time to put our shoes on... I use 'em a LOT.)

The song idea though sounds like it could definitely help. I make up stupid songs about my cat, it shouldn't be too hard to make up songs about what it was I was going to do.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:32 PM on March 15, 2009

Response by poster: Suggestions that have helped so far:

- I already did this, but I'm gonna mention that putting my morning pills in one of those Day-of-the-Week pill boxes helped a ton.
- My evening pills I keep next to the bed, whereas the morning pills are in my tea cupboard (because if I open the cupboard, I'm likely to drink tea, which will wake me up, and then I'm likely to eat breakfast). I was having issues with the evening pills and possibly - maybe - taking them twice. So, going on the "using the five senses" suggestion, I store the bottle upside down. This means that when I open the bottle, I have to turn it over, making a distinct rattle noise. Haven't spaced out on this one since.
- Doorways. I have totally noticed the doorway erasing minds thing. Dunno if it's confirmation bias or what. I haven't yet trained myself to remember what I was doing BEFORE I go through the door, but I am getting better at stopping THE NANOSECOND I realize I don't know what I was doing and just standing there until I remember, which is working faster than wandering around trying to figure out what the hell was going on.

I haven't run into a situation yet where a notebook would have been practical, though in theory, it's a good idea. I'm finding my problem is specifically with the immediate - I have no problem remember what I need to do later today or tomorrow, and no issue with *eventually* getting it done. My problem is if I go to return my library book, I know where I'm going, but am I going to remember to PUT THE BOOK IN MY BAG. For this, the notebook is of no help.

Working on creating a morning checklist since that's when most of my brainfarts occur.

Thanks again and anyone reading who has any more suggestions, I'm all ears!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:02 PM on March 16, 2009

« Older Help me get the hell out of here!   |   What's the best ring setting for a miner's cut... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.