While memory loss is a key symptom of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, forgetfulness can also be a part of the normal ageing process. It can also sometimes be a result of other diseases, such as depression or an underactive thyroid.
Memory problems aren’t always a sign of dementia. But if memory loss is becoming a worry for you or a loved one, do consult your doctor who can assess its severity.
Whether you’re experiencing general memory problems or the effects of dementia, there are lots of devices that can make a real difference to your life.
Some memory aids are fairly technical, others less so – but all are designed to help with remembering important everyday tasks. Below, we describe some popular technology designed to help those living with memory problems.
Various specialist clocks are available to help with memory problems. There are digital models that very clearly display the day of the week, as well as the time and date. Some automatically dim at night and are good for those with partial sight or low vision.
There are also ‘day clocks’ that show the days of the week on a traditional round clock face, rather than the hours of the day. These help someone with memory problems to keep track of what day it is.
Some digital clocks can also be programmed to display a message at a specific time of day, such as ‘Remember to take your pills’.
Dayclox is a popular brand of memory clock.
These alarms are good for people who are easily distracted or forgetful and who could leave the cooker turned on and unattended, risking a fire. The Innohome Stove Alarm, for example, learns how you use the cooker (to prevent false alarms) and sounds an alarm when the oven temperature rises, before a fire ignites.
Gadgets designed for those living alone who need reminding about specific tasks. The Defender Memo Minder, for example, has a motion detector that senses movement and plays a personalised message in a relative’s voice. For example, when placed at the front door: ‘Mum, don’t forget your keys.’ You can also use this kind of gadget to record a short message to remind you of the day’s tasks.
myhomehelper is a digital memory aid and communication device that combines various useful services in a single tool. It consists of a tablet computer that can display reminders, messages, a calendar or a digital clock, and can also be used for video calls. The system can be set up and managed online by a family member or friend. It can be used to remind someone with memory problems about upcoming events or daily task and also allows relatives to keep in touch.
These can be useful if you need a reminder to take medication or have poor memory which could lead to you taking repeated doses. They can also be useful when travelling as they are usually relatively compact.
Pill organisers are normally laid out by the week, but some of the more advanced models can be loaded with up to four weeks’ medication at a time. They can then sound an alert when you’re due to take a dose, stopping when you remove the tablets. Some, such as the Pivotell Automatic Pill Dispenser, can send a text message to family members or a carer if you miss a dose (but this will involve a monthly fee).
Dosette boxes are plastic trays which can be used to organise pills into daily compartments for the whole month. If you need help filling the box, ask the pharmacy if they can provide their prescription in unit dosages or in a pre-packed dosette box. Otherwise you’ll need to organise for the box to be refilled regularly. Dosettes tend to be larger than other pill dispensers.
Locator devices work by attaching small sensors to everyday items that you are prone to losing, such as keys, reading glasses or your wallet. A remote control with a transmitter will then track down any of these items that you mislay by activating an audible alarm from the sensor that’s attached to the item.
The Tile app system, for example, allows you to locate lost items using a smartphone app that tracks sensors via a Bluetooth connection. The app shows the item on a map, with a range up to about 45 metres (150ft).
Note: some of the products named in this article have been included because they were among the recommended products selected by a panel of experts for Which? in 2016. There may be various other products on the market that offer similar features.
and that emit an audible alarm are vital if you’re in danger of forgetting that you’ve turned on or left on the cooker. They may also be available as part of a package, alerting a call centre if an alarm is triggered.
There are services where automated phone calls can be arranged for people with memory difficulties to remind them about important tasks, such as taking medication or eating and drinking.
For example, Care Calls is a service that enables family members to record personalised reminder messages for a loved one. It also sends an alert to a named contact if the call is not answered. Basic reminder calls (without a voice message) can also be set up on a BT landline.
Smartphones and tablets have many useful apps that can help with memory problems and which come as standard. These include calendars that allow you to set reminders for appointments and events, and maps that can track where you are and show you where you need to get to.
There are also lots of smartphone apps designed to help you remember to take specific medication. Most of these give you an audible or visual reminder once you’ve set the dosage times and the names of the medication. However, there are obvious limitations in relying on a smartphone app in this way. If you mislay your phone, or your phone battery or signal isn’t working, then neither will the memory aid.
Timeless is an app that uses facial recognition technology to help dementia patients remember or identify friends and family using a smartphone’s camera and photo gallery. This is combined with an easy-to-use calendar that gives reminders of upcoming events. Like many memory aids, to work well this will rely on a loved one or carer making sure that reminders are kept up to date and relevant.
Book of You is a multimedia app that helps people re-create their life story using words, pictures, music and films. It's based on the principle of reminiscence therapy – using the senses to help people with dementia remember events, people and places from their past lives.
While memory aids can be very helpful for people living with dementia, it’s important to note that they can’t cure any underlying issues and nor should they be seen as a replacement for the appropriate medical care or attention.
When it comes to buying equipment to help you stay independent at home, you might want to start by getting professional advice from a doctor, occupational therapist or a local disabled living centre. They can help you to decide what equipment is suitable for your needs, as well as advise you on whether you may be able to get the equipment for free from the NHS or your local social services.