by Maryanne Edmundson, PhD
Not all of us are natural organizers. How much we like organization can depend on personality, the kinds of organization skills we saw our parents use, and our past experiences with strategies that have worked for us. Even if you’re a very go-with-the-flow type of person, you may have important information organized in your head. When we’re young, we often rely on our brains to keep track of our goals and activities. For example, you may say to yourself, “I know I have a stack of bills in my office that need to be paid this weekend.”
As we age, we might have a harder time keeping track of important information due to normal changes in the brain, or chronic health conditions, like high blood pressure or diabetes.
When we retire, we may be faced with making our own schedules for the first time in a long time. You may find yourself needing to make sure you’re taking several different medications multiple times a day, following recommended diet and exercise guidelines, and going to scheduled activities like medical appointments, family gatherings, volunteer activities and hobbies. Finding ways to organize your environment can help ensure you are keeping up with everything you need to track.
Rehabilitation research recommends several organization strategies to boost daily memory and thinking performance, including:
- Follow a routine. Do daily tasks, like eating meals and taking medications, at the same time and in the same order every day.
- Cue your senses. If you’re having trouble remembering to do things, use a visual or auditory cue, like a sticky note on the mirror that says “meds” or a reminder alarm that rings when you need to take medicine.
- Keep a day planner. Having one ready place to write down notes, lists or appointments gives you something tangible you can consult when you’re having trouble bringing information to mind. Review each day’s agenda when you wake up in the morning and check off items when you complete them.
- Have a home for important items. Keep your keys or wallet in a particular place, like a certain spot on your dresser, when you’re not using them.
Consider these strategies to implement new organizational methods:
- Each person is unique in the set of strategies that work best for them. Try as many organizational skills as you need to find the ones that work for you.
- Give each strategy time to work. We may not notice the difference a new approach is having at first.
- If a strategy doesn’t seem to be working, try tweaking it. For example, try moving reminder notes to different places to see which one works best.
- Find a good balance. Some structure is helpful, but too much can be overwhelming or can make it hard for you to make changes when life throws you an unexpected curve ball.
- Make a few changes at a time. It can feel daunting to add structure to your life if you try to go from none to having everything scheduled out.
- Changes in thinking abilities happen with fatigue, pain and stress, so improving these could enhance daily memory and thinking performance.
Though some cognitive slowness or memory lapses are normal as we age, seek professional consultation if you’re having pronounced memory trouble that makes it hard to do daily activities.
Dr. Edmundson, a clinical neuropsychologist at Pinehurst Neuropsychology , can be reached at 910-420-8041, or by visiting www.pinehurstneuropsychology.com.