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7 Ways Smartphone Tools Can Target Memory

Constant Therapy | Brain health

Memory loss tech tools for clinicians, caregivers, and patients:

An SLP’s perspective

Just 13 years ago, research touted the effectiveness of using a pager to reduce memory issues in people with traumatic brain injury (TBI).  We’ve come a long way since pagers. Today, smartphones and tablets serve as powerful memory tools for those who have experienced stroke, brain injury, or a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, or Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). Technology in your pocket means you can use programs for strategies and exercises anytime and anywhere. I find using some of these tools in sessions valuable for many of my clients working on cognitive rehabilitation.

Here are my seven favorite tech tools to assist with memory goals:

Reminders – Help clients remember to remember.

Most smartphones and tablets come standard with a reminders app for making lists. Androids and iPhones alike feature the ability to schedule alerts for these easy-to-use to-do list creators. I love using this app for prospective memory. Here are some scenarios when this tool works best:

  • The event happens several weeks in the future, such as: “Remember to pack my passport for a trip next month.”
  • The event recurs daily or weekly, like “feed the dog” or “take out the trash.”
  • Remembering to do something on a specific date or time. For example, “Ask these questions at my doctor’s appointment on May 4.”
  • Including notes about a specific task, such as, “Buy these grocery items next time I’m at the store.”

One of my favorite parts about reminders involves programming an alert to go off at a specific location. One client with a TBI frequently misplaced his phone, keys and wallet. We created a “personal items tray” in his kitchen to place these items when he first entered the house. At our next session, however, he reported the strategy didn’t work because he didn’t “remember to remember” to use the strategy. We simply programmed the reminders app to sound an alarm every time he arrived home, and now he successfully uses the new tray.

Calendar – Go beyond scheduling and set personal goals.

I love using Calendars in treatment to target not only memory, but also goal-setting, planning, time estimation and self-monitoring.  I spend entire sessions working on how to use calendars to improve memory and executive functioning. I help clients schedule the entire week’s events, transportation time to get to the events, and when to leave the house. Looking at their to-do list on reminders, a client can then estimate how much time each task might take to complete and schedule it in calendar. We set all calendar events with one or more alerts to provide added cues that paper-based planners can’t offer.

An added bonus is the ability to share calendars. Some clients benefit from receiving an additional reminder from a family member linked to the calendar alert. One client did not need this type of cue, but found sharing her calendar with her sister also held her more accountable for actually using this strategy consistently and effectively.

Notes or notebook – Save trees one note at a time.

Using the notes tool on a smartphone or any app-based notebook can really help clients with a brain injury. They can carry all of their notes in their pocket and access them anytime and anywhere.

One client who lost some of her writing skills used notes quite effectively. In our session, she created separate notebooks for different parts of her life: treatment, personal, exercise, headache log and more. These apps also allow searching by keywords, so she could easily and quickly locate information. During sessions, she accessed her treatment notes, audio recordings and photos of tasks she accomplished since the previous session.

Voice recording – Listen, record, repeat.

Voice recording tools are one of the more underrated memory strategies, yet I find them highly effective! Recorders today offer great sound quality. Plus, they automatically add a date/time stamp and allow you to label recordings, save them to the cloud, and distribute them through email, text or even social media.

In sessions, we practice using this strategy in a variety of contexts. One example involves having the client record our conversation. After the conversation, the client can practice recalling salient details, and if she misses any, she can listen to the recording to fill in missing information. This tool can also be helpful in situations where there are high demands on auditory memory, such as participating in a meeting at work or a lecture in class.

Health – Track and access information.

The health tool on most smartphones or tablets provides a place to store and easily access your health records, medical information and upcoming appointments. The app also automatically tracks physical activity. It links with calendars and can be used with reminders to get outside and walk or take medication.

There are many tech tools available to help clients with cognitive rehab goals. Clinicians: What are some of your favorite ways you’ve used technology in your sessions?

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