My Plan to Avoid the Terror of Short Term Memory Loss

Written by: Bob Glicksman. Posted: November 15, 2014. 


Short term memory loss seen up close is sobering

Dementia is a common problem in the elderly population.  As modern medicine becomes more capable of keeping the human body functioning, we are increasingly living long enough for our minds to degrade. 

Dementia in the elderly comes in many forms.  One common form is “short term memory loss”, which is manifested by the inability of a person to remember something that they just learned.  Such people have otherwise normal cognitive skills and their long term memory may be unimpaired.

My mother has severe short term memory loss.  As her caregiver, I have found that her short term memory impairment has many adverse consequences.   One significant consequence is her loss of “temporal cognition”; loss of “grounding” her normal daily activities in time.  Her inability to remember the day’s events causes her a great deal of confusion.  I am convinced that this confusion results in a significant reduction in her quality of life.  She lives each day with a substantial amount of anxiety over not knowing where she “is supposed to be” at every time of the day.  Her anxiety becomes severe whenever the day includes any activity that is not routine; not something done every day, such as a club meeting, doctor’s appointment, weekly phone call with the family, etc.


Making my own future memory loss less debilitating

My experience with my mother has made me concerned about how I could avoid the horrors that come with short term memory loss when it inevitably hits me in the future.  While I cannot prevent short term memory loss, I do believe that I can mitigate the confusion and anxiety that comes with not being able to mentally track my daily activities.  My solution is a simple technological memory prosthesis – a “wearable” calendar.

Hypothesis: technology in the form of calendaring can help.

Unlike my mother, I am used to having technology on my person at all times.  Currently, this in the form of a smart phone.  In the future it might be a smart watch, “heads up display” on my eyeglasses, or other form of wearable technology not yet conceived.  My smart phone has a calendar app and my idea is to list all of my daily activities on the calendar and to train myself (now, when I do not yet suffer from memory impairment) to consult the calendar constantly during the day.  I believe that this simple aid will compensate for future short term memory loss over the activities of the day and will thereby avoid the anxiety that my mother experiences and improve my overall quality of life.  I believe that if I work on making a habit of my constantly consulting my wearable calendar now, the habit will become engrained in my long term memory which, as in my mother’s case, is likely to remain intact.

Implementing intensive self-calendaring

I have chosen the Google Calendar on which to record my daily activities.  This choice was largely driven by the fact that (a) I have an Android smart phone with the Google Calendar app already installed on it and (b) I have used the Google Calendar on my desktop computer for many years to record my work related events (meetings, tasks, etc.).  However, the short term memory loss “prosthesis” idea can be implemented on most any calendar that is supported on a mobile device; e.g. Apple’s calendar on the iPhone.

The Google Calendar app on my smart phone allows me to create tasks as well as to view them.  However, I prefer to input my calendar data on a desktop computer, as it is easier to type and edit there.  The Google Calendar is stored “in the cloud”, so I can edit and view it from the Google Chrome browser on my desktop computer and the contents automatically sync with the Google Calendar app on my smart phone.  The accompanying image shows a contrived set of daily events that a senior citizen might have entered into their calendar.

Note the importance of having all of the day’s activities listed on the calendar, even time reserved for meals at home.  It is my belief that capturing a complete set of activities on the calendar will avoid any future confusion about what I am supposed to be doing and where I am supposed to be doing it, at all times of the day.  Although I have entered these tasks on my desktop computer, they are stored “in the cloud” and automatically synched with my smart phone.  

As long as I have made a habit of consulting the smart phone calendar app all day long, I should never experience confusion and anxiety over my schedule of activities, nor should I be concerned about missing something important.

Testing & Learning. Results thus far

At the present time, I am focused on recording all of my daily activities on my Google Calendar and on making it a habit to look at the calendar app on my smart phone constantly throughout the day.  This turns out to be more difficult than I thought that it would be!  I am finding it hard to break a lifetime habit of just looking at the calendar once (say in the morning) and committing the activities to memory from there.  However, I do believe that if I persist to force myself to do this, I will eventually make this a new habit and that this new habit will not be impaired by future short term memory loss.  I plan to continue to force myself to look at the calendar on my smart phone at least every time that I have the phone out of my pocket.  I make and receive many calls and texts throughout the day and if I always consult the calendar at those times, I should have no difficulty in using it as a memory aide. 

Extrapolating this idea into the future.

I plan to purchase a smart watch in the next year or two.  There are many such devices coming onto the market and they advertise many attractive features.  One requirement that I will have for any such purchase is support for display of my Google Calendar.  In this way, I hope to be able to consult my watch for my list of activities, which I think will be even more convenient than my looking at the app on my smart phone.  Further into the future, I may be able to arrange for my daily activities to be projected onto the inside of my eyeglasses.  I wouldn’t have to do anything to view this information.  The information would simply be projected into some part of my field of view and I could observe it at any time simply by looking in the right direction.

I think that there are great possibilities in using technology to assist us through the trials and tribulations associated with the aging process.  I am excited by the notion that much of the technology needed already exists.  It is just a matter of adapting the technology to the particular need.  Very soon, we will be able to purchase wearable technology that includes physiological monitoring capability.  Although the market for this technology is assumed to be young people monitoring their exercise regimen, I believe that this technology can be easily adapted to monitoring aging related diseases such as heart attack, stroke, falling, etc. 

We live in exciting times where technology is rapidly advancing to the point where we can use it to materially extend the quality of life, even as advances in medicine are extending our longevity (heretofore, often at the expense of quality of life).  There need not be a tradeoff here.  We can live longer while maintaining a high quality of life through technology.  Exciting times, indeed!






Reader Comments: "My Plan to Avoid the Terror of Short Term Memory Loss"


from Frances Taylor (unverified) at February 03, 2020

The notion of a minute-by minute calendar available on some device sounds very useful. However, I find Google's intrusion into my life with what it gleans from only my email at the least unpleasant and perhaps really scary as to where it is selling and recording this information. Couldn't we have a truly personal calendar shared only with those whom we choose?


from Bob (member) at February 04, 2020

There are plenty of choices other than Google.  Apple, Microsoft and Samsung all have their own calendar apps that come packaged with iPhone, Windows and Samsung phones respectively.  There are also a great many independent calendar apps that you can use.  There is also a standard for interchanging calendar information, so you can use the Samsung calendar on your Samsung phne with e.g. Outlook on your Windows PC.  The point here is not which product you choose, but the value in keeping an up to date calendar on your mobile device and building the habit NOW of consulting it often, so that the habit will be there when you start losing track of your schedule (and don't realize it).


from DGG (unverified) at November 02, 2020

I have been contemplating the same ideas and the future implementation is based on some sort of AI providing the person with appropriate "suggestions" as to what he should be occupied every hour of the day according to his "habits". The same would apply for identifying" faces and situations


from Bob Glicksman (unverified) at March 15, 2021

I think that this is a good idea, as long as it gives priority to actually scheduled events. We wouldn't want to steer someone to a bridge game when they have a doctor's appointment scheduled at that time, on that particular day.


from K. (unverified) at March 15, 2021

Reminders (Apple) is a nice way to list and check-off daily tasks. Used it for homework.


from Howie (unverified) at March 28, 2021

The challenge I see, having observed my mother, is the lack of ability to use tools that she used a short time ago--a calendar, making notes (she makes a new note each time she hears about something, but never refers back to it), etc. She would not even remember a new technique or device even exists, much less how to use it. (I tried to get her to use an Echo using the wake-up word "computer" without success). However, maybe developing the habit of using such technology would help for awhile.


from faengelm (member) at March 28, 2021

Hello Howie,

You might want to try setting Alexa in a pro-active mode as described in this article.

You could set it up to remind her of calendar events and daily tasks with her asking Alexa


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Last Updated: November 22, 2022.

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