Improve Memory in a Few Easy Steps


Alison Johnston, is a Denver based writer who enjoys writing about overall health and mental wellness.

Everyone’s memory needs an occasional boost. But for people living with dementia, knowing how to improve memory recall can make profound differences in their lives and the lives of their families. Spending time together with memory exercises and games is a great way to enjoy a loved one’s company. Below are some ideas for games and activities.

Use Flash Cards

Assemble a set of cards with pictures of common household objects on them. Choose pictures that are fairly simple. When you want to play, shuffle the deck, and deal two or three cards; you can deal more if your card partner is feeling sharp today. Ask the person to describe what’s on the card and how it might be used. You could also use the cards to create a story together. The idea is that a picture of a hat, a location, or a coffee shop might lead to talking about a memory spent vacationing with family while enjoying a cup of coffee.

This free-form game lends itself to modification and embellishment. You can make it as simple or complex as you like. Depending on the pictures you choose, the stories could spark memories of other associations. Keeping associative memory sharp could improve overall clarity and acuity, some studies suggest. 

Get Plenty of Exercise

Thousands of years ago Greek philosophers linked a sharp mind with a sound body. Today modern science suggests they were on the right track. Physical exercise can help dispel depression and anxiety. These conditions sometimes affect people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Better physical health could also contribute to clearer thinking, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.People with memory problems can see especially positive results from regular physical exercise.

A home care aide can be a tremendous asset for people with dementia and the family members who love them. Trained caregivers can encourage their patients to be more physically active and provide the support they need to accomplish that goal. For people with mild dementia who live independently, having a companion spurs them to be more active. In multi-generational households caregivers help family members feel less overwhelmed while giving loved ones with dementia the physical care they need.

Play Board Games

Board games have enduring charm for people at every age group. Classic boardgames, including backgammon, checkers and Monopoly, are deeply familiar to people who probably played them for hours in their youth. Tapping into these older memories helps forge a link between the present and the past for all players. Games can help keep long-term memory sharp by echoing activities from decades ago. They also hone procedural memory through repeated actions and familiar rules. 

When choosing a board game, keep the challenge level in mind. It’s more difficult to recall how the pieces move in chess than it is in checkers, for example. While playing, encourage your family member to reminisce about playing the game as a younger person. Was the game different back then? Were there any special rules their friends used? Which games were favorites? When showing family members how to improve memory recall, dementia caregivers often use activities that link to the past. 

Try Computer Games

Computer gaming may seem like a pastime for younger people, but for people with Alzheimer’s disease computer games can also be a fun memory exercise. Some role playing games are as complex as novels and last about as long. Other arcade-style games are straightforward, colorful fun. Tetris, the classic spatial-reasoning hit from Russia, is one example of a great game that happens to be an excellent brain-booster. Many tablet games are designed to be easy to pick up and play without reading a long list of rules. These games are particularly good for sharpening hand-eye coordination and short-term memory.

Researchers with the University of St. Andrews found their study participants willing to try a variety of different games and give extensive feedback on what they liked best. Don’t assume that someone who didn’t grow up with computers can’t learn to appreciate them. Give them a crack at Bejeweled or Angry Birds and let them discover a new skill.


Quick Tips

  • To avoid frustrating people with moderate to advanced memory impairment, choose no-fail games and activities for dementia patients.
  • Keep physical limitations in mind too. Easy-to-hold game pieces, high-contrast images and activities that don’t rely on sound cues are good choices for people with osteoarthritis, cataracts, or other conditions that might affect their participation.
  • Find local dementia support groups. These groups help family members manage their stress and can provide suggestions for other memory-building activities.
  • Work with a certified in-home caregiver who has training with memory care. Your home care aide can give you great ideas for memory games and activities you can share with your loved one.

Have fun with these exercises and activities for dementia patients, and you could find your own recall sharper too. You know your loved one best. Choose memory exercises that fit your family member’s capabilities to make the games enjoyable. Dementia support groups can offer additional guidance for memory care activities. This list is a good place to start.