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Memory Difficulties


An overview of memory and strategies that can be used to support children and young people with memory problems associated with an underlying health condition such as a brain injury, brain tumours/cancer and epilepsy.

What is memory?

Memory is important in our lives and helps us complete day to day tasks. It allows us to:

  • recall past experiences
  • recognise someone as familiar
  • remember what we need to do in the future
  • learn new skills or information
  • follow instructions

When people have difficulties with their memory it can have a big impact on their lives. They may need help from other people to manage to do things that would be expected of a person of their age or ability.

The following information provides an overview of memory and different strategies to help people live with memory problems.

How are memories made?

The process of making, storing and retrieving a memory can be broken down into several stages.

You first need to pay attention to the information. Then you need to learn this new information, which can be affected by how much you understand it, and how relevant it is to you.

The memory will be stored if you are interested and if the information means something to you. What is important to one person may not be important to another, and therefore harder to remember. For example, if someone found something funny they may be more likely to remember it later.

Rehearsing or practising information will help you to remember it later. This is called consolidation. Without this, you might forget something over time, such as how to play the piano, or a new language. Sleep helps us consolidate information, and having poor or disrupted sleep can impact how we store our memories.

Retrieving memories means calling back on information you have stored. For example, when asked for your phone number or address you would need to retrieve it from memory. If someone is struggling to remember information that has been learned, stored and consolidated, giving cues can sometimes be helpful. For example, giving someone the first letter of someone’s name they cannot remember.

What are the different types of memory?

There are different types of memory:

  • verbal memory means the things you read or hear
  • visual memory means the things you see
  • motor memory such as riding a bike
  • procedural memory such as remembering the steps to make a cup of tea

Some of the important types of memory to be aware of are:

  • working memory, or immediate memory. Information that has just been received is stored for a few seconds before it is either processed or discarded. It can be remembering a phone number long enough to write it down, holding numbers in your head to complete a complex maths problem or remembering what you were asked to do when you went upstairs.
  • short-term memory is your recent memory. This means information that is stored for a short period of time. For example, your child reading a story and being able to answer questions about what was read.
  • long-term memory is a memory for things that have happened in the past such as remembering a family holiday from a couple years ago, and learned information such as knowing that Paris is the capital of France.
  • prospective memory is for future events and involves some planning, so such as remembering an appointment, or homework due dates.

Understanding a child’s memory difficulty

If your child has a memory problem, taking on board, learning or recalling information may be difficult for them. You might notice that your child:

  • forgets things after a few minutes
  • has problems following instructions
  • takes a long time learning new things
  • has problems remembering names
  • has problems remembering things that have happened to them

What I can do to help my child’s memory?


Communicating your child’s memory difficulties to those involved with your child is an important first step. Sometimes poor memory can be seen as someone not trying their best, not being interested or not listening. Knowing about the memory problem will help people to understand why someone is struggling. For example, learning in school, relationships with their peers.


Putting in place strategies into your child’s home or school life takes time, planning and patience.

There should not be an expectation that your child will be able to use a strategy independently immediately. Successful strategies take time to learn and use well.

To be able to use strategies effectively, your child needs to understand how and when to use the strategy. They may need reminders and support to use them successfully. You should consider the level of understanding of your child and change your language accordingly. If your child does not fully understand something, it will be a barrier to remembering it.

When introducing a new strategy, take your time and try not to make it not too overwhelming for them. It is important for your child to engage in these strategies, so try to be flexible with them.

Pay attention to which strategies work. If after a while, your child is not engaging in a strategy, then try a different approach. Give your child lots of reassurance and praise for working on these strategies. Encouragement will be important to help them stay engaged and motivated.


Children with memory difficulties can find organisation difficult. Creating structure and routine will make tasks become more automatic. This could include:

  • having set mealtimes and bedtimes
  • having set places for things in the home
  • using a wallchart or calendar for regular events, including pictures and images to help them remember
  • create routines for things like getting ready in the morning
  • labelling things they regularly use, such as cupboards or draws
  • marking the bathroom door
  • keeping important information in a visible place

Learning new information

The following changes are helpful to support children learn and remember new information.

  • minimise distractions
  • their seat in a classroom such as at front of class next to a supportive friend
  • give them handouts of information. Copying from a board or book is memory dependent and makes tasks more difficult
  • consider how quickly your are giving them information. Giving them information too quickly can be more difficult to remember for someone with memory problems
  • break down information into smaller chunks can make things more manageable for your child
  • present information in an organised way and link it to information that they already know such as linking a new word to existing vocabulary knowledge
  • using their interests helps them stay engaged
  • repeat and summarise information for your child. Check their understanding by asking them to repeat things back to you in their own words
  • talk through things like homework and tasks with your child to help them break down what they need to do
  • use prompts to help your child recall things rather than giving them the answer straight away. For example, if they are struggling to remember someone’s name, give them the first letter of their name or show them a picture to help jog their memory
  • use different methods to give information will strengthen their memory of it. For example, if your child is learning how to do something, it might be helpful to also draw out the steps using pictures and diagrams
  • multisensory learning involves using different senses to help learn information. For example when learning the letter “S” you might sound out the “ss” sound, draw the letter, feel the letter and mould it using play dough
  • some children may remember the wrong information or answer such as learning that 2 + 2 = 5). Errorless learning is a strategy to make sure that children always respond correctly, before they get something wrong. If you allow them to get something wrong the first time, they are more likely to learn the incorrect answer. Giving correct prompts and cues while learning prevents the child from giving an incorrect answer, which they are likely to hold onto
  • multiple choice questions can help them recall information, rather than use open-ended questions

Remembering information

The following strategies can be used to help to support your child’s memory problems:

  • a diary or calendar to keep track of things
  • a watch or phone alarms as reminders
  • a notebook handy at all times to jot things down before they forget
  • Post-It notes
  • lists, for tasks or shopping
  • photo albums of events, achievements and important people
  • wallcharts, planners and whiteboards
  • talking tins or a Dictaphone
  • recording success such as certificates
  • having specific places for objects and keeping them there
  • using mind maps and spider diagrams
  • organising information under headings
  • highlighting key information in text
  • repeating and rehearsing information and recapping at different intervals
  • using the 5 W questions ‘Who?’, ‘What?’, ‘Where?’, ‘Why?’, ‘When?’. Break the information down into each of these categories and think of each one as a hook to hang information on
  • using PQRST to help remember a story or information:
    • preview (taking an overview)
    • question (the 5 Ws)
    • reading the story multiple times
    • state answer to questions
    • testing yourself
  • stories and rhymes
  • mnemonics such as ‘Richard of York gave battle in vain’ to remember the colours of the rainbow

Importance of physical health

Good sleep, diet, hydration and physical activity will help to make our memory work at it’s best. The importance of these things should not be underestimated.

Importance of emotional wellbeing and mental health

It is important to recognise that memory problems are worse when people are stressed, anxious or feel low in mood. Supporting these feelings is therefore very important. There can be a cyclical relationship between memory problems and mood. Problems with memory can cause someone to be anxious about forgetting and the anxiety itself makes it harder to remember.


An overview of memory and strategies that can be used to support children and young people with memory problems associated with an underlying health condition such as a brain injury, brain tumours/cancer and epilepsy.

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

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An overview of memory and strategies that can be used to support children and young people with memory problems associated with an underlying health condition such as a brain injury, brain tumours/cancer and epilepsy.


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