Some degree of memory loss affects about a third of people who survive a stroke, according to the National Stroke Association. But it’s good to know there are things you can do to help get your memory back.
“Memory deficits after a stroke can vary,” says Melissa (Muller) Meyers, OTD, an occupational therapist at MossRehab in Philadelphia. The extent of your memory loss can depend on how old you are, the severity of your stroke, where your stroke occurred, and even the support you have from family and friends.
No medication is known to help reverse memory loss after a stroke, Meyers says. But where drugs won’t help, you can take steps with activities, therapy, and rehabilitation to help recover your memory after stroke.
How to Regain Your Memory After Stroke
1. Stimulate your brain. “Games that require you to use your brain, whether as simple as checkers or complex as chess, can help you regain your memory,” says Allen Kaisler-Meza, MD, medical director of the Good Samaritan Hospital Independent Rehabilitation Program in San Jose, California.
2. Work with rehab specialists. Speech-language therapy enhances recovery. It helps by stimulating the brain to make neural connections from uninjured parts of the brain to those parts affected by stroke, Dr. Kaisler-Meza says.
Bob Mandell, now 71, who had a hemorrhagic stroke in 1996, credits various types of therapy, including speech therapy, with getting his memory back. Right after his stroke, Mandell of Naples, Florida, couldn’t get three words out and his memory loss was frustrating. But his determination to recover worked in his favor, and he believes others can do the same. “I worked really hard at therapy,” he says. He wrote about his recovery in the book Stroke Victor. “I did what psychologists called engaged therapy. I went all in, and that jarred my memory and my mind.”
3. Post reminders for yourself. Leave notes in key areas, such as a sign in the bathroom reminding you to brush your teeth, says Stephen Page, OTR/L, PhD, an occupational therapist and associate professor at the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at The Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus. Use the alarm on your smartphone or even an old-school clock to remind yourself of appointments and when to take your medications, Page adds. Once you form a routine, it will help you re-establish your memory. Meyers agrees that in her work with patients as a therapist, “creating a routine that is repetitive and consistent can help.”
4. Make up mnemonics. Mnemonics are creative ways to remember things. They often take the form of an acronym, like the popular RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation — a shortcut to remember how to treat a sprain. You might make up your own mnemonic for the steps to cook a familiar meal, Page suggests. Rhymes also work, that associate a name with an object, like: “Shirley is the woman with curly hair.”
5. Get organized. Making it easy to see items you need for daily activities will help you remember what you need to do and when to do it, Meyers says. For example, lay out your clothes for the morning before you go to bed at night. Put your toothbrush on the sink where you’re sure to see it.
6. Repeat and rehearse. When you’re given new information, repeat it to yourself several times, the American Stroke Association recommends. Go over the material as many times as you need for it to sink in. Don’t be afraid to repeat back, in your own words, what you’re told to be sure you understand it correctly. If you have to make a presentation or give a speech, break up the material into smaller segments. These will be easier to remember.
7. Stay active. Get out of bed and move as much as possible, Kaisler-Meza says. A six-month exercise training program for patients promoted not only memory but also attention and conflict resolution in a small study of stroke survivors. And aerobic exercise promotes the recovery of brain function after a stroke, according to a study done on animals and published in the International Neurourology Journal.
Mandell, who was paralyzed on his right side after his stroke, believes exercise helped him regain his memory. “I always feel better after exercising,” he says. Exercise helps relieve stress and stress relief is important to brain health, he adds, noting that he tries to exercise almost every day.
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8. Feed your brain. A brain-healthy diet includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, according to the American Stroke Association. Eating this way will help your brain recover optimally, Kaisler-Meza says.
A healthy diet and smaller portions helped Mandell lose the 30 pounds of excess weight he was carrying when he had his stroke. He believes that helped his mental recovery. He felt better, and feeling better improved his mental outlook.