Dealing with ADHD and Forgetfulness

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

What did you forget today? Over the years I have received emails from many adults with ADHD. One recurring theme in these emails is how difficult the symptom of forgetfulness is. Of all the different ADHD symptoms, this, according to one woman, is the worst. Her forgetfulness has labeled her "lazy," "uncaring," "unthoughtful," and "stupid." She tries to remember, she says, it just doesn't work but it doesn't mean she doesn't care.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th edition, "is often forgetful in daily activities" is listed as one of the symptoms of inattention. Although this doesn't mean that everyone with ADHD is forgetful, it is one of the more common symptoms. In the emails I have received, individuals with ADHD say forgetfulness interferes with their daily life. Some of the things people have forgotten:

  • "I forgot to pick up my kids after baseball practice."

  • "I came home to no lights in the house because I forgot to pay the electric bill, even though I had the money to do so."

  • "I forgot to get gas in my car and ran out of gas (again)."

  • "I forgot to meet my husband at the restaurant for dinner."

  • "I forgot to set my alarm and was late for work (again)."

  • "I spent 3 hours at home doing a report for work and forgot to bring it with me."

Forgetfulness is seen as a negative trait. The American Heritage Dictionary defines forgetfulness as "Marked by neglectful or heedless failure to remember: forgetful of one's responsibilities." This definition implies that if you forget you are shirking your responsibilities intentionally. You are neglectful. But when you have ADHD, being forgetful is not intentional. It doesn't mean you don't care. An old saying, "If it is important enough, you will remember it" doesn't apply to people with ADHD. Picking up your kids from baseball practice is important, meeting your husband for dinner is important, getting to work on time is important.

I have compiled some tips to help you with forgetfulness. These tips have been sent to me or posted on the site, through the years, by adults with ADHD. Some of these tips will work for you, other's will not. Sift through them, find one or two that you can apply to your life.

"I use post-it notes everywhere. I have a tablet of post-its in my car, on my desk, in my kitchen, in my purse. When I notice the gas tank in my car is below 1/2 tank, I put a post-it up that says, "get gas." If I need something at the store, I write it on the post-it and put it in my purse. When I get to the store, I usually have several post-its with one or two items on each, it helps me to not make several trips to the store."

"I use mnemonics to help me remember facts or to-do lists. I take the first letter of each fact and string them together. Then I create a sentence. For example, if I needed to remember to go to the cleaners, the grocery store and meet a friend for lunch, I would use 'c' 'g' 'l' and make up a short sentence like, 'cows get lost.' I find it easier to remember a sentence like this than to remember a list of things to do."

"I use a timer to help snap me out of hyperfocus. When I am on the computer, I can lose track of time. I set a timer (sometimes a few timers five minutes apart) so that after a certain amount of time on the computer I get a reminder it is time to do whatever else needs to be done."

"I use my cell phone to set reminders for appointments. I can't tell you how many appointments I have forgotten over the years. Since I am rarely without my cell phone (except when I forget to bring it with me), as soon as I make an appointment, I put it in the phone and get a reminder 15 minutes before I need to leave. It isn't a perfect system but it has been very helpful."

"I make up a song to help me remember. Singing a list of things to do is just much more fun and it helps me remember. I sing to myself and once I make up the song, I can usually recall it. As I go through my things to do I keep repeating the song."

"I keep a small notebook with me at all times. Small scraps of paper with notes written down always get lost or thrown out. I don't usually throw out the notebook. At first, I would forget to bring the notebook, but as I kept with it, I make sure it is with me. I can write down whatever I think of to recall later."

"I send myself emails. When at work, I think about things I want to accomplish once I get home or even something I want to tell my husband, maybe a funny story or something he would be interested in. Once home, it never fails that I can't remember any of it. Now, I send an email to myself and in the evening I check my email to see what I wanted to do or say."

"I create a picture in my mind. It seems easier to recall a picture than to recall words. For example, I use parking garages quite frequently and could never remember where I parked my car. (Who hasn't wandered through a garage or parking lot looking for their car?) Now I create a picture based on the level. The other day I parked on level 4C. I pictured four cats sleeping on top of the roof of my car. Hours later, when I went to find the car, I had that picture in my mind and could immediately remember level 4C."

What do you do? Do you have any ideas to add? Please post them.

Also remember, later this month we will be talking to ADHD Coach Rudy Rodriguez about managing symptoms of adult ADHD. Set a reminder on your phone for Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 7:00 PM eastern time and join 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.