There are many reasons that can help explain why someone of any age is forgetful. I wish I could pin point it exactly and say “this is why,” but the truth is it is a little different for each person. There are some common difficulties that can contribute to forgetting things. These include symptoms of ADHD, depression, anxiety, trauma, bereavement… the list goes on.

Working Memory is also known as short-term memory. These are things you hold in memory to complete a task. For example, you are packing up your child for school and need to send them with snowpants, boots, hat, gloves, and a lunch and mid-way through your list, your child reminds you that it is their snack day. They end up going to school with the snack, but you forgot to pack their gloves. Or you’re on the way out the door and you cannot recall where you left your keys. After all, they were right here, right? says that research demonstrates that young children can only hold one or two items in memory. Working memory continues to develop until around age 15, but not everyone develops this skill at the same pace or has the same working memory capacity. Some people can simply store more information than others. We use working memory daily. It is used to read, write, plan, organize, follow conversations, perform mental math, and to follow multi-step directions. It also helps with focus and attention on a task. shares a study that was conducted in the United Kingdom, looking at 3,000 elementary school and junior high school students. The researchers found that weak working memory indicated more struggles in school when compared with low cognitive ability. According to this particular study, almost all of the children with weak working memory scored low on reading comprehension and math tests.

What does this look like during adulthood? Missed work deadlines, half-completed projects, losing keys/phone/wallet, forgetting what you want to say in conversations…

So what can you do?

Develop a routine. Always setting your keys, for example, in the same spot makes it easier to find them the next time because it increases predictability. Follow a sequence related to whatever it is you typically lose/forget.

Reduce multi-tasking. Focus on one task at a time. Break it down into smaller chunks. “Chunk” items together, similar to re-calling a phone number. We recall phone numbers in 3 chunks of numbers versus remembering the whole number.

Take breaks. Exercise. Move your body, even if just a little. Drink water. Make sure you’re not hungry. How much sleep have you gotten recently? Take care of your basic needs.

Practice. The more you train your working memory, the stronger it gets. Flashcards, puzzles, making lists of words/numbers and trying to recall them…

Difficulties with working memory can be caused by many different things. Above are some mentioned strategies to try at home, but working with a professional to assist with building skills and to reduce symptoms is recommended if your memory is impacting your daily life. Therapy and/or assessment can assist with getting to the root of the problem and addressing it to increase success.


References Say Goodbye to “Oh, I forgot!”.

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