HD doesn’t take away memories, it just makes them harder to remember. It’s like having a document stored in your computer, but no good way to find it again.
People with HD have a harder time remembering how to do activities that have multiple steps. Activities like tying a shoe or riding a bike requires implicit memories of a sequence of events. When remembering the order of actions for tying a shoelace is hard, the activity becomes difficult.
Researchers are beginning to understand the relationship between memories and a person’s identity. Lacking shared memories with people they know can weaken the richness of a relationship. Without the ability to recall past experiences, it also becomes harder to make decisions about the future.
Memory is also involved in learning. People with HD can have trouble organizing new thoughts and focusing. When information isn’t stored neatly in the brain, it becomes hard to find and use later on.
Some types of memories are more affected by HD than others. Remembering a name is not as hard as remembering how to do something. Long-term memories are easier to recall than short-term memories. Because people with HD still have their memories stored in their brain (as opposed to people with Alzheimer’s) they can recognize a memory with a prompt.
Additional factors that can impact a person's ability to remember and learn include depression, anxiety, living in a stressful environment, and having trouble with impulsivity.
Tips and Strategies for Remembering and Learning
Remembering or learning how to do something that involves multiple steps becomes harder with HD. Some of these strategies will work better for some than others. See what works well now, then try different strategies as the symptoms change:
- Break down a new task into smaller pieces makes it easier to learn.
- Make choices from limited options instead of having a wide range. Caregivers can ask either/or questions.
- Lists and written reminders are big helpers. Make checklists, put reminders on stickies, write down activities on a white board.
- Use a calendar and reminders on a phone/tablet/computer. Care partners can send texts and instant messages with reminders too.
- Practice recently learned information. Repetition helps with understanding and retention
- Keep a daily routine. Set schedules are repeated over and over becoming easier to learn and remember.
- Practice patience. HD causes thinking to slow down and it takes longer to remember things.