Finding things

I forget where I have put things

We all forget where we have put things at times, and this may get worse when we are stressed or tired. If you have MS, you might find that your attention wanders sometimes, and you don't register where you have left important things like keys or glasses.

Keeping track of all of our actions and decisions can be tough. It can be hard to find things that you have put down in a hurry, particularly if it is not in the usual place. Your brain has to process all the locations where your lost item could be, and try and sort them out. 

The tips below help to cut down on the processing for your brain, and make it easier for you to recall where things are quickly.

Tips and tricks

  • Have a set place for everything (your glasses, your car keys) and always put these essential items in their set place.
  • At key times during your day (returning from an outing, before going to bed) check important items are in their set places.
  • Alternatively, set up one place to collect important things, such as a canvas tidy over the kitchen door with lots of pockets for glasses, car keys, bills to pay, letters to post etc. you could label the pockets.
  • If remembering to check items doesn't work, have a list of important items handy, perhaps by the front door or on the fridge, and check through at a set point time each day (after your evening meal for example) that all are in their set places.
  • If you want to keep your important things in different places and the list isn't enough to help you remember, make a list of items and locations e.g. car keys in handbag, wallet in coat pocket, or draw a map of the house with important items marked on locations.
  • You may also want to use this list or map before you go out, either routinely or when you have an important journey to make like going to a wedding, to check that you have everything you need for the day.
  • You can buy bag inserts that hold all your essential items, so you can transfer them between different bags that you use.

How can health professionals help?

If your major difficulty is finding things, then your health professional may want to determine what aspect of mental skill is underlying the problem. A psychologist could be useful in assessing the things that cause you problems. For example:

  • It may be a problem with concentration, that is your mind wanders and that gap in concentration means you miss where you put down your specs (for example). A successful strategy might be to alert yourself with a certain word or phrase when you place an item, then "snapshot" a picture to store in your mind of the object in the place you have left it.
  • The map of your world in your head, including the map of the rooms in your house might not be working as well as it used to. There are ways to strengthen the map and make your recall of it more reliable, including using video games and brain training activities.

Involving family and friends

If you are having difficulty finding things, the people around you may notice as well. This might be a good time to tell them about your experiences, and about any strategies that you want to try to improve things.

Family members at home could help you check diary entries for the next day, or remind you about sticky notes being in the right places. This will help them to be able to support you better.

Gmeindl L, Courtney SM
Deconstructing spatial working memory and attention deficits in multiple sclerosis.
Neuropsychology. 2012 Jan;26(1):57-70.
Pardini M, Bergamino M, Bommarito G, Bonzano L, Luigi Mancardi G, Roccatagliata L.
Structural correlates of subjective and objective memory performance in multiple sclerosis.
Hippocampus. 2013 Dec 12. [Epub ahead of print]
Janssen A, Boster A, Lee H, Patterson B, Prakash RS.
The effects of video-game training on broad cognitive transfer in multiple sclerosis: A pilot randomized controlled trial
J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2015;37(3):285-302.
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