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Speech Therapy Memory Activities for Adults: A Practical Guide

This post is a guide to treating memory deficits in the adult population.

The treatments are broken down by severity: mild, moderate, and severe memory deficits. For each of these groups, you’ll find step-by-step speech therapy memory activities for adults.

Bookmark and open this post while treating. Or feel free to copy and print the activities.

For print-and-go handouts & worksheets that are expertly formatted for patients, check out our shop!

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How to Treat Memory Deficits

speech therapy memory activities for adults

1. Follow the Evidence

Cognitive rehabilitation evidence shows that memory compensations (e.g., spaced retrieval, errorless learning, chaining, etc.) and memory strategies (e.g., associations, breaking down information into groups) can work to treat memory deficits.

You’ll find these evidence-based treatments at work in the activities below.

2. Keep it Functional!

Keep treatment functional. It’s not only more practical and motivating for patients: It’s key to practicing person-centered care.

Functional tasks are commonly ADLS and IADLS. That said, always ask the patient (or their caregivers, if appropriate) what their goals are and what matters to them. When treatment planning, brainstorm what regular tasks the patient does that require memory.

Medication management, money management, schedules, and reading are common categories that speech therapy can help with.

What about worksheets?

If your patient is still learning their memory strategies or has an acute, severe impairment, it’s fine to start with less functional tasks—like memorizing lists in worksheets—as a way to learn how to use the strategies.

Quickly move on to functional tasks, such as memorizing their food order or medication list.

Remember that the point of worksheets isn’t to get good at them; it’s to practice memory strategies and get used to using them.

3. Train Caregivers

caregiver training memory deficit

For patients with moderate, severe, or progressive disorders, provide plenty of caregiver training in the use of memory aids (memory book, orientation) and memory techniques like spaced retrieval and errorless learning.

4. Identify Any Attention Deficits

Identify whether there’s an underlying acquired attention deficit.

While you can work on memory and attention at the same time, some attention issues are severe enough to negatively impact memory treatment. In these cases, you may want to focus on treating the attention deficit first.

Once attention skills improve enough, you can add in memory treatment.

5. What About Awareness?

Patients have to be aware of their memory deficit for memory treatment to be truly effective. But what should you do if they’re not?

Work on metacognition: have visual cues in the environment that remind them about their memory. For example, post a bright pink calendar right on the refrigerator.

That said, it’s not your job to convince anyone that they have a memory deficit. You can educate and try the suggestions above, but if the patient still isn’t buying it, know that it’s okay to let it go. Again, treatment should be meaningful to the patient and person-centered.

Severe Memory Deficits

how to treat severe memory deficit

Severe memory deficits include acute and progressive impairments, such as severe TBI or severe dementia.

Speech Therapy Memory Activities for Adults

Day 1 of Treatment: Severe Memory Deficit

  1. Provide Spaced Retrieval and Orientation handouts
  2. Teach Spaced Retrieval & Errorless Learning to caregivers
  3. Complete the Orientation worksheet with the patient
  4. Review the Orientation worksheet using Spaced Retrieval
  5. Ask the patient to keep the Orientation worksheet in a safe spot so you can return to it over and over again

1. Spaced Retrieval

Caregiver Instructions

1. ASK THE QUESTION. Ask your loved one a specific, open-ended questions (can’t be answered by ‘yes’ or ‘no’)

  • For example, “When is your eye appointment?”
  • Or, “Where do you live?”

2. GIVE THE CORRECT RESPONSE.

  • For example, “Tuesday at 10 am”
  • Or, “June Fields Retirement Home”

3. ASK THE QUESTION AGAIN. Ask the exact same questions again and wait for a response. The answer should exactly mimic your correct response (“Tuesday at 10 am”)

  • If your loved one was incorrect, go back to the first step
  • If your loved one was correct, then wait 15 seconds and ask the exact same question again

4. WAIT, THEN ASK AGAIN. Continue to increase the time between asking the question again. Start with 15 seconds, then increase the time to 30 seconds, 60 seconds, 2 minutes, 4 minutes, 8 minutes, etc. You may go up to half an hour and beyond.

  • Remember, the response must be correct to increase the time interval. If incorrect, go back to the first step.

For print-and-go handouts and worksheets, visit our shop!

2. Errorless Learning

  • Focus on accuracy when treating memory

  • Emphasize not guessing

  • Minimize guessing by giving enough help. For example, give a verbal cue to double-check the medication labels.

3. Orientation

Make an orientation worksheet.

  1. What is your name?
  2. What is your birthdate?
  3. Where do you live?
  4. What time is it?
  5. What day of the week is it?
  6. What month is it?
  7. What is today’s date?
  8. What year is it?
  9. Why were you at the hospital?
  10. What symptoms are you experiencing?

Today’s Date:
Today’s Score (number correct):

4. Memory Book

how to make a memory book

See this post for a free Memory Book PDF and for more tips on how to create and use it

A Memory Book, also known as a “Reminiscence” or “Orientation” Book is a meaningful and often fun memory tool for our patients with severe memory deficits.

By adding images and simple text about a patient’s current and past lives, the book can help them orient to where they are and what’s happening around them. It can also unearth emotions that trigger memories.

Memory Books Can Help Patients:

1. Orient to Self, Location, and Purpose

2. Orient to Family and Friends

3. Orient to Medical History and Status

4. Orient to Daily Schedule, etc.

5. Decrease Anxiety and Increase Independence

6. Reduce Repetitive Questions

How to Use a Memory Book:

Teach caregivers and loved ones how to use the memory book. Most use a memory book as a way to communicate and share in an activity with their loved ones.

Caregiver Instructions:

1. Memory books are meant to be a fun sharing experience. They can improve mood and quality of life.

2. Slowly flip through the book. Encourage conversation by pointing to photos and asking open-ended questions. “Who is this?” “Where was this photo taken?”

3. Give reminders to read captions. This helps your loved one remember information.

4. Avoid “quizzing” your loved one. Instead, give opportunities to share parts of their life story.

5. Memory books can also be used to answer any repetitive questions your loved one may ask. For example, if they frequently ask, “When are we going home?” prompt them to open the memory book and find the answer under Location Information.

5. Daily Journal

Create a daily journal worksheet for your patient to fill out at the end of each day.

Include the date, what they did that day, who they saw that day, how they felt, etc.

To cue for a more detailed journal entry, say, “Tell me everything you did today” or “What’s the first thing you did today? And then what happened?” etc.

6. Daily Schedule

Daily schedule for memory deficit

Create a daily schedule worksheet for your patient to fill out.

This schedule can help patients who struggle to keep track of their daily schedule, would benefit from getting on a routine, or would like to keep track of personal goals. Breaking down their day into larger chunks can help.

Moderate Memory Deficits

how to treat moderate memory deficit

Speech Therapy Memory Activities for Adults

Day 1 of Treatment: Moderate Memory Deficits

  1. Provide a Memory Strategies handout
  2. Discuss 2 to 3 Memory Strategies then complete a simple task using one of these strategies.
  3. Ask your patient to keep their Memory Strategies in a safe spot so you can return to it over and over again

1. Spaced Retrieval & Errorless Learning

Teach spaced retrieval and errorless learning.

2. How to Avoid Memory Loss

how to avoid memory loss

Patient Instructions:

Neuropsychologists and neurologists recommend the following tips to avoid memory loss.

EAT RIGHT

  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Limit fried foods, desserts, and frozen dinners

EXERCISE

  • Do your therapy exercises
  • Take walks, exercise at home, or go to the gym at least 30 minutes per day, 3 days per week

MENTAL EXERCISE

  • Do brain games
  • Read, play cards, play word games, and do puzzles
  • Learn new things
  • Continue your hobbies

SOCIALIZE

  • Meet new people, attend events, host dinners, write emails and letters to friends and family, join a club, visit the Senior Center

3. Memory Strategies

Patient Instructions:

WRITE IT DOWN

  • Take notes. Use a calendar to help you remember appointments.

REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT

  • Say what you want to remember, such as a person’s name, over and over again.

TAKE MENTAL PICTURES

  • Visualize what you want to remember, such as where you left your keys.
  • Take a mental snapshot and store it away in your brain

USE ASSOCIATIONS

  • Connect what you want to remember with what you already know.

USE GROUPS

  • Organize what you want to remember into smaller groups, such as your grocery list by produce and canned foods.

4. Remembering Your Medications

speech therapy memory activities for adults

Patient Instructions:

KEEP A ROUTINE. Take your medications at the same time and place every day.

MAKE A LIST of all of your medications.

USE A PILLBOX. Have all of your medications ready.

PLACE REMINDER NOTES where you’ll see them

USE ALARMS. Program your phone or Alexa™ device to sound an alarm when it’s time to take your medications.

USE A CALENDAR. Write remembers to take your medications. Cross them out only after you’ve taken them. Add to your calendar when to call for a prescription refill.

5. Monthly Calendar

Calendar tasks can make great speech therapy memory activities for adults.

For the first task, have a blank monthly calendar or planner handy, depending on your patient’s preferences (for a blank template, download our guide, Functional Cognitive Tasks for Adults).

Look for a calendar that isn’t visually busy, as that can be distracting for patients. Also, make sure that the text font is large enough to read easily.

Simple Tasks Using the Monthly Calendar

  1. Fill in the dates for the month, year, and each day
  2. Add birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays.
  3. Add appointments
  4. Add bill due dates
  5. Add any other imporant events
  6. Cross out the days as each day passes

To make these calendar activities a little more fun, add their pet’s birthday or a fun national holiday (Squirrel Appreciation Day is January 21!)

Follow Up Questions Using the Monthly Calendar

  1. What year is it?
  2. What month is it?
  3. What day of the week is it?
  4. What is today’s date?
  5. What holidays are celebrated this month?
  6. What day of the week is the first?
  7. What day of the week does the month end on?
  8. What birthdays are in this month?
  9. How many Sundays are in this month?
  10. What is the date one week from today?

6. Remembering People’s Names

cognitive speech therapy activities for adults

Remembering people’s names can make be make functional, motivating therapy memory activities for adults.

You can print out the following questions or dictate them to your patient. Supply them with paper and a pen to complete this activity.

Patient Instructions:

  1. Write down the name of the person you want to remember:
  2. Write down the same name three more times:
  3. Do you know anyone with that same name? Write down how you know the person. For example, “Jennifer from work.”
  4. Does that name remind you of another word that’s easy to picture? For example, Alisha reminds me of “a leash” like a dog leash (silly associations can be fun!) Write it down.
  5. Does the name rhyme with another word? Can you make a little “jingle” or “tune” out of the name? For example, “Dave like to save.” Write it down.
  6. Which of the previous associations feel “right” to you? The person with the same name? Another word that is easy to picure? Or a rhyming word/jingle? Write the winning association down three more times.
  7. Without looking at this paper, say the association aloud three more times.
  8. Without looking at this paper, say the name of the person you want to remember.
  9. Repeat the association to yourself at least three different times throughout the day. Do this daily for at least one week.

7. Remembering Therapy Team’s Names

A functional place to start remembering names is with the patient’s therapy team!

Create a worksheet like the one below. Ask your patients to use their memory strategies to remember their therapy team’s names. First, they will write down the name. Then they will write down an association for each name (Dave likes to save).

NURSE:

SPEECH THERAPIST:

OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST:

PHYSICAL THERAPIST:

OTHER TEAM MEMBERS:

8. Remembering Appointments

how to remember appointments

Your patient will likely have a number of medical-related appointments any given week. If they manage their own schedule, work with them on how to remember the appointments they set up. Run through the suggestions below with your patient to help them identify which ones will likely be useful, then follow-up with them about its success.

Patient Instructions:

1. BRING A POCKET PLANNER OR CELLPHONE WITH YOU TO THE APPOINTMENT. As soon as you schedule a follow-up visit, put a reminder in your planner or cellphone,

2. DOUBLE-CHECK YOUR APPOINTMENT. When you receive an appointment reminder call, email, or note, double-check that the appointment is in your planner or cellphone.

3. WRITE DOWN APPOINTMENTS ON A WHITEBOARD OR MEMO PADS. Place a magnetic memo or whiteboard on your refrigerator. Use it to write down important appointments.

4. SET ALARMS. Set an alarm for 2 hours before each appointment.

9. Memos & Appointment

Create worksheets to help patients practice their memory strategies given auditory information.

Patient Instructions:

Use your memory strategies for the exercises below. Read each memo a few times, underling keywords as you go. Then answer the questions. Try not to look at the memo.

  1. This is Dina from Dr. Lee’s office. I’m calling to confirm your appointment for Friday, January 10 at 8:00 am. Please bring photo ID and your insurance card.

    • What doctor are you meeting?
    • What day is your appointment?
    • What time is your appointment?

  2. Good morning! Your prescription is ready for pick-up at Main Street Pharmacy. We are open today from 7 am to 6 pm. Please note that if you do not pick up your prescriptions within 7 days, then it will be re-shelved. Thank you!

    • When does the pharmacy close?
    • What is the pharmacy’s name?
    • How many days do you have to pick up the prescription?

Mild Memory Deficits

how to treat mild memory deficits

Speech Therapy Memory Activities for Adults

Day 1 of Treatment: Mild Memory Deficits

  1. Give the patient a Memory Strategies handout
  2. Go over the Memory Strategies together.
  3. Have the patient choose one of the strategies—then use it to memorize their Memory Strategies!
  4. Ask the patient to keep the Memory Strategies handout in a safe spot so you can return to it over and over again.

1. Spaced Retrieval & Errorless Learning

Teach spaced retrieval and errorless learning.

2. Memory Strategies: Simple

Patient Instructions:

WRITE IT DOWN

  • Take notes. Use a calendar to help you remember appointments.

REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT

  • Say what you want to remember, such as a person’s name, over and over again.

TAKE MENTAL PICTURES

  • Visualize what you want to remember, such as where you left your keys.
  • Take a mental snapshot and store it away in your brain

USE ASSOCIATIONS

  • Connect what you want to remember with what you already know.

USE GROUPS.

  • Organize what you want to remember into smaller groups, such as your grocery list by produce and canned foods.

3. Memory Strategies: More Advanced

memory strategies for mild memory deficits

For patients with mild memory deficits, introduce these more advanced memory strategies.

Ask them which strategies they already use. And which they are interested in trying. Practice the strategies during other memory tasks.

Patient Instructions:

PAY ATTENTION. Listen to, look at, and focus on what you want to remember.

USE MENTAL PICTURES. Take a mental picture and store it in your brain. For example, visualize where you left your keys and take a mental picture of the scene.

REPEAT & REHEARSE. Repeat over and over what you have just learned, such as a new name.

CHUNK & ORGANIZE INFORMATION. Sort information into categories. For example, organize your grocery list into groups.

CREATE ASSOCIATIONS. Make connections between what you want to remember and what you already know. For example, remember a new name by connecting it to someone with the same name.

USE EXTERNAL AIDS. Wear a watch, use a planner or calendar to help keep a schedule, or write a checklist to remember grocery items.

ADAPT YOUR ENVIRONMENT. Remove background noise and clutter.

KEEP ITEMS IN THE SAME PLACE Have containers of places where items ‘belong’, such as a key rack by the door.

HAVE A ROUTINE. Have a set schedule for waking up, meals, naps, bedtime, etc. to get your body into a routine. This helps with memory.

IMPROVE YOUR OVERALL HEALTH. Go for walks, eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, and drink plenty of water. This improves brain function.

SOCIALIZE & CONTINUE YOUR HOBBIES. Host dinners, call old friends, join a club. Keep up with hobbies such as reading, gardening, and listening to music.

DO ACTIVITIES THAT IMPROVE MEMORY. Play board games, card games, crossword puzzles, word searches, and sudoku puzzles. Read the newspaper, write emails, work on the computer, etc.

4. Backward Chaining

Use backward chaining to teach patients multi-step tasks. Teach the entire task first, then gradually decreasing cues, step-by-step, until the patient can do the task independently.

Be sure to use errorless learning and to give immediate feedback.

  1. BREAK DOWN THE TASK INTO KEY STEPS
    • For example, the key steps to filling a pillbox are:
      1. Place all bottles on the left side of the table
      2. Open all the compartments of the pillbox
      3. Take one bottle and fill in one week’s worth
      4. Double-check your work
      5. Place the bottle on the right side of the table

  2. FULLY PROMPT THE PATIENT THROUGH EACH STEP
    • Give visual, verbal, and/or physical prompts and modeling as needed as they go through every step of the task
    • For example, you give the patient moderate visual cues with occasional modeling to complete steps 1 through 5 of filling a pillbox

  3. FADE PROMPTS FOR THE LAST STEP ONLY
    • Go through the entire task, but decrease cues for the last step
    • Keep fading cues until the patient can do the last step independently
    • For example, give only a visual cue for step 5 (place the bottle on the right side of the table) until independent

  4. FADE PROMPTS FOR THE 2ND-TO-LAST STEP
    • Go through the entire task, but decrease cues for the 2nd-to-last step
    • Keep fading cues until the patient can do the 2nd-to-last step independently
    • For example, model step 4 (double-check your work) until independent

  5. KEEP FADING PROMPTS FOR THE ENTIRE TASK
    • Keep backward chaining until the patient does the entire task independently

5. Memorize Lists

Below is an example worksheet from The Adult Speech Therapy Starter Pack. Your patient can create their own lists or they can use the examples on the worksheet.

functional memory tasks for adults free worksheet
  1. WRITE YOUR LIST. Avoid adding extra information. A grocery list example: If you always buy whole wheat bread, then just write “bread.”

  2. IDENTIFY GROUPS. There should be at least 2 groups. Limit groups to 3-5 items each. There can be an “other” group for items that don’t quite belong to any specific group.

  3. SORT THE LIST INTO GROUPS. You can do this by rewriting your list. Or highlight each item using a different color for each group (e.g. Dairy is yellow. Produce is green).

  4. READ THE FIRST GROUP ALOUD. Repeat at least 3 times. Read from your list as needed.

  5. REPEAT WITHOUT READING. This time, don’t look at the list as you repeat the first group again.
    • If you remembered all the items, move on to the next group.
    • If you forgot one or more items, read your list aloud at least three times and try again.
    • If you’re still having trouble remembering the items, make the groups smaller.

  6. CONTINUE MEMORIZING THE OTHER GROUPS. Continue reading aloud and repeating each group until you’ve memorized the entire list.

  7. REPEAT THE ENTIRE LIST ALOUD. Say your list aloud, group by group.
    • If you remembered all the items, then repeat the entire list aloud at least 3 times.
    • If you forgot one or more items, take a short break then read the list aloud before trying again.

6. Brain Organization Tips (Metacognition)

memory activities speech therapy

Teach your patients with mild memory deficits these brain organization tips. Have them use the tips during multi-step activities to organize their thoughts and stay on task.

Examples of functional multi-step activities are preparing for a dinner party, a large cleaning project, grocery shopping, or refilling a prescription over the phone.

STOP. Take a break. Ask yourself, “What am I doing?”

GOAL. What’s the main task? What are you supposed to be doing?

PLAN. What steps do you need to take to complete the task?

LEARN. Say the steps over and over again.

DO IT! Complete the task.

CHECK. Take a break. Check your work. Ask yourself, “Am I doing what I planned to do?

7. Remembering Instructions

Read one instruction aloud, then ask the patient to repeat back the key information. Record accuracy by how many keywords (underlined) the patient recalls. If the patient expresses the main idea in their own words (e.g. they say, “go right” for the keywords, “turn right”), then this counts as correct.

Go through five instructions, then review the set using the keywords (e.g., “tell me about the garlic” or, “what do I combine?”)

If the patient accuracy is 80% or above: Add five more instructions, then review the entire set of instructions, using the keywords. Repeat until accuracy during review falls below 80%.

To expand the challenge, you can prompt the patient to take notes while you read aloud.

Example Instructions

  1. Take tablet twice daily.
  2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Bring photo ID and your insurance card.
  4. Stir until mixed.
  5. Take a left at the light.

8. Remember Reading Material

mild memory impairment speech therapy activities
  1. Provide motivating reading material. A book or magazine the patient is already reading works great! You may want to use a pencil for this activity if you’re not making a copy or using a worksheet.

  2. Have the patient underline keywords or concepts as they read.

  3. After each paragraph, have them summarize what they just read.

9. Organize the Environment

Helps patients organize their environment in a way that supports improved memory.

  • Reduce clutter

  • Install a key holder

  • Use a pillbox

  • Post a magnetic whiteboard or memo pad on the refrigerator to write important reminders

  • Have containers with clear labels
    • Mail sorter
    • Medications, etc.

  • Create systems
    • Bill pay
    • Sorting mail
    • Grocery shopping, etc.

  • Have a daily checklist and a weekly checklist
    • Daily: Review the day’s calendar. Set a cellphone alarm 2 hours before every appointment.
    • Weekly: Review next week’s calendar. Text a caregiver to request a ride to an appointment

  • Have good lighting and reduce auditory distractions

More Resources

Memory Pack PDF Patient Handouts Worksheets Materials
Problem Solving Pack PDF Patient Handouts Worksheets
Adult Speech Therapy STARTER PACK Speech-Language

References

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