The newsletter of the Memory Disorders Project at Rutgers University

How good are you at remembering the future?

Normally we think of memory as the ability to call to mind things that happened in the past. But another important kind of memory has to do with things that haven't happened yet, like remembering to take your medication in the morning or to mail your grandchild’s birthday card on Friday. This kind of memory is called prospective memory. It requires not only remembering what needs to be done, but also remembering it at the right time.

So how can you help your brain remember the future?’

For tasks that you have to remember on a certain day, the best advice is to use a calendar, scheduler or to-do list. Fill in what you need to do during the week, and check the list several times a day. That way, you'll remember on Wednesday that you need to call the doctor, and you'll remember on Friday that you need to mail the card.

But what about daily chores, things that you have to do at a certain time each day? Here you can help yourself out by using visual prompts.

If you have to take your medication at breakfast time, then put the pill bottle in the cabinet in front of your cereal or coffee. This way, you can't get at your breakfast foods without seeing the pills, which will remind you to take the medication.

If you have to remember to take the trash out each night, put a small note that says "trash" on your pillow when you make the bed in the morning.

Over time, as you get into the habit of taking your medication each morning, and taking out the trash each night, you may find that you don't need to leave yourself visual reminders. The habit will become ingrained, and you'll find you can remember the future with little effort at all.