Adult ADHD: Dealing with Forgetfulness

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

If you are an adult with ADHD, chances are you have said this phrase over and over in your life with many different endings. It may have been:

  • I am sorry I forgot your birthday

  • I am sorry I forgot our anniversary

  • I am sorry I forgot to pick up the kids from school

  • I am sorry I forgot our lunch date

  • I am sorry I forgot to take out the trash

Some of what you have forgotten may be unimportant in life - for example, if you miss taking out the trash, you usually have another opportunity to do so in a few days.
But others, such as a birthday or an anniversary, only happen once a year and forgetting that event might signal to your partner that you just don't care enough to remember. While most of the world lives by the words, "If it is important enough you will remember it," those with ADHD know that even the most important of events is easily forgotten. Forgetting has nothing to do with whether the event or situation matters.

It may help to think about your short term memory as a shelf. Each person has a different size shelf; some hold many different items and some are small enough to only hold one. When you add an item to the shelf, one of the things already there falls off. You can only hold a certain amount of items on your shelf. Imagine you have a shelf (short-term memory) that can hold three items at a time. You are planning to meet your wife for lunch (#1), you have a meeting with your boss at work (#2) and you need to stop to get gas in your car on the way to work (#3). Your morning is going fine - until you add another item to your shelf. Now, one of the previous tasks you were remembering is going to fall off the shelf - and you may not remember it again until something reminds you to put it back on the shelf.

Unfortunately, whatever item falls off might cause you hardship. You might run out of gas on the way to work, you may get caught up in your work and be late to meet with your boss (creating unneeded stress on your job) or you may forget to meet your wife, creating a stressful night at home. When you see your short-term memory in this way, there are two possible ways to help improve your memory. You can try to make your shelf bigger so it can hold more items or you can use external ways to remind you to put an item back up on the shelf.

In the past, I have tried using memory exercises to help increase the size of my shelf, mostly without success. Instead, I use external ways to keep items balanced on my shelf.

Below are some of the strategies I have implemented in my life:

  • Using the calendar on my cell phone and setting alarms to remind me when an appointment, meeting or event is coming up. My calendar includes my children's activities, orthodontist appointments, doctor's appointments and sports events. It includes deadlines for work, meetings with clients and lunch dates with my husband or with friends. Alarms are set to remind me 24 hours, six hours and one half hour before.

  • Post-it notes keep my to-do lists right on my desktop. I don't use the paper Post-it notes as they are too easy to lose. I use the desktop kind and keep a running to-do list right on my computer desktop. Windows 7 has this feature built in but if your operating system doesn't have this, you can download the program.

  • Usernames and passwords are kept in a rolodex so they are literally at my fingertips while I am on the computer. Because I don't like keeping them in the computer, the rolodex works for me and it is always close by.

  • Although I don't use Outlook, many people find they can coordinate contacts, calendar and to-do lists all in one place. I believe it provides reminders that you can customize and Outlook can be used on your smart phone so your schedule follows you. has a list of 100 Powerful Web Tools to Organize Your Thoughts and Ideas. I found many different downloadable and online programs, some free and some you need to pay for, that can help you stay organized.

Are there additional ways you use to help you remember events, activities and special (or not so special) events? Please share your ideas and tips with us.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.