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Posts (23)

1 day ago · Making a List, Checking it Twice: Doing To Do Lists Well in Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Christmas To DoMany of us naturally get the idea of keeping a “To Do” list or task list of things we need to get done.  This may have been recommended to you, or perhaps you started doing it more on your own after the diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment.  But, how do you make a meaningful To Do list?

If you are like me, your first approach to a To Do list may have been to write one long, master list of every possible thing that you need or want to do.  The result:  a long, overwhelming list that you don’t accomplish.  In our experience, you To Do list can be improved by trying the following:

  1. Break down large tasks into steps.  Don’t just write “Get ready for Christmas” on your list; break down all of the steps you need to get there. And, even those steps may need to be broken down further.  A great example is “Buy presents.”  Break this one down into lists of who and what.  Going out of town?  Break it down into all the steps needed for traveling, (packing, booking tickets, boarding pets, etc.)
  2. Assign tasks to the day you plan to do them.  This tip is likely the largest deviation from what you are used to in that classic, comprehensive master list.  I am recommending that you do not see all of the items that you could possibly accomplish on that master To Do list each day.  Doing so only desensitizes you to all the items on the list (meaning they start to lose their importance when you keep putting them off each day).  It also can leave you feeling down or frustrated with yourself for not achieving enough, or simply overwhelmed with all there is to do.  Instead, once you break down your tasks into steps, assign them to a day you realistically can do that particular step or task. Put it on your calendar.  Better yet, if you are using a planner, like the one in HABIT, put it in the To Do section for that day. You are much more likely to accomplish all that is on your list if there are only a few things for the day.
  3. Commit to try to do those things that day.  This way, you can keep working towards your goals a day at a time, step by step, so that tasks get done.  Prioritize items by putting a star or asterisk by them, and make sure to try to get those items for sure done that day.
  4. Check it Off!  Put a check next to items that you get done.  This gives you a sense of accomplishment and helps you remember what you got done if you are experiencing memory loss.  Now you have a permanent record of the accomplishment (you can even check it twice 🙂 Thus, don’t just scribble it out when you are done; we want to see that you got it done!
  5. Carry things forward you don’t get done.  Even after breaking down tasks and assigning only a few to a day, any of us can still not get everything done we wanted to.  If that happens, just make sure that you carry it forward in your calendar so that you don’t lose track or forget that step!  I like to put an arrow instead of the check mark when this happens.  And, don’t just arrow it forward, make sure you pick a new day you will get it done and write it on that date.




This blog was about good “form” in keeping an effective To Do list.  Please let us know if you have any other tips.  But, particularly, what helps you stay motivated to get things done?  I didn’t talk about that important piece, and I’d like to hear your thoughts!


Tue, Nov 13 9:19am · HABIT Helps Older Adults with Memory Loss Find Ways to Cope in Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Of course, we love good press for the HABIT Program and are happy to share this recent article by NJ.Com:


(Click on the picture to follow the link to the full article.)

Wed, Oct 17 7:06am · Now What? The Importance of Having Purpose as We Age in Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Great points, Debbra! Everyone needs a sense of purpose, and that does mean caregivers, too. And, I agree, that most people need a sense of purpose outside of being a caregiver as well.

Tue, Oct 16 9:24am · Now What? The Importance of Having Purpose as We Age in Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)


For many, one of the perks of age is the ability to retire. You worked hard all your life to earn your time to do whatever you want, when you want to do it. Yes, you EARNED it.  Or, maybe memory loss, or other circumstance, has forced you to retire.  What do you do with your time now?

It seems that simply doing nothing is not all it is cracked up to be. Low and behold, watching endless hours of television is not good for your body or your brain.  And, this isn’t just about the benefits of being active.  I’m talking about having meaning or purpose to your activity.  Doing something that makes you feel like your life matters.

Don’t worry. This isn’t a post full of inspirational quotes or links to self-help websites.  I can’t tell you how to give yourself purpose.  I AM going to ask you to pause, and ask yourself, “Do I have a sense of purpose in my life?” and  “Do I feel like I matter?”  Yes, those are deep questions, and questions that many people find themselves asking when they encounter any life transition.  Often, people find themselves asking those questions with retirement or with an acquired change in ability, like physical limitations or cognitive limitations from Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).

Why does this matter? Well, there is growing evidence that having a sense of purpose is linked to better health and well-being in older adults. The benefits to health are so great, that there is actually reduced risk of death when folks report higher sense of purpose!  (Yes, that is during the duration of a study, so maybe it’s fairer to say delay in death. And, no, sense of purpose does not impact your taxes.)

Cognitively, individuals are less likely to develop MCI or Alzheimer’s disease when they report a strong sense of purpose.  Further, those same researchers (from the Rush Memory and Aging Project) found that having a sense of purpose actually reduced the association between Alzheimer’s plaques in the brain and cognitive performance.  Meaning: having a sense of purpose meant you could do better cognitively despite how much plaque was in your brain!

So, my appeal to the importance of you having a sense of purpose is not just about how happy you are or a general message that I want you to have a good quality of life. I DO want you to have those things. However, on a more basic level that maybe you never thought about before, having that sense of purpose can actually safeguard your cognition and health.

The irony here? Cognitive change from MCI can challenge your sense of purpose, or even take away the sense of purpose you once had (like being forced to retire early from meaningful employment or give up a volunteer/leadership position you loved).  In actuality, then, getting the diagnosis of MCI becomes just the time when we need to strive to ensure that we have a sense of purpose.  If what used to be your sense of purpose can no longer apply, find new sources of meaning in your life.

OK, indulge me with one inspirational quote:

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” – Nietzsche

How did you face a change to your sense of self-meaning or purpose? We’d love to hear!

Tue, Oct 2 9:36am · Patient Spotlight: How I Use My Calendar to Cope with Memory Issues in Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Hi Kathy – The calendar we use is only available for those who participate in the HABIT program. Of great importance here, we have found in the past that it isn't having the calendar itself that helps, it is having specific training to support and engage people in using the calendar that helps. You can buy similar, although not exactly the same, calendars or day planners out there on the market. Again, however, it is not just having the calendar, it is getting training in using it that is of most benefit. That being said, writing things down more to help memory is better than trying to remember it on your own, regardless of our specific calendar!

Hope that helps!

Tue, Sep 11 2:54pm · HABIT Returns to Rochester, MN! in Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Great to have you back Mayo Midwest!!! You have an outstanding team, and we are so happy for you!!!

Tue, Sep 4 9:58am · Patient Spotlight: How I Use My Calendar to Cope with Memory Issues in Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

This week’s post comes to us from Virginia, a Minnesota resident and former Mayo Florida HABIT Alumni.


Anyone who has attended the HABIT program knows one of the key components of the program is The Calendar. An excellent tool to keep track of tasks, appointments, and action items and; because it is used by both the participant and the care giver, a useful means to help reduce repetitive questions and increase independence.

Keith and I attended HABIT two years ago and have been faithful users of our calendar ever since. However, I remember well, feeling and expressing a very strong resistance to incorporating the Calendar when it was initially introduced.

Prior to going to HABIT I had been using a ‘standard’ 12 month calendar, which fit nicely on my desk and, I felt, had been serving me quite well. I thought I was doing just fine keeping track of things (although I must admit I had missed several appointments recently). I cringed at the thought of learning a new system… especially one that had so many ‘pieces’ and details. I even called it ‘over kill.’

However, I reluctantly agreed to give it a try during the two weeks of the program.

Well of course, by the end of two weeks, I became a devotee. I soon realized the benefit of having a ‘system’ of keeping track of action items (those accomplished and those still to be done.) Of having a page listing monthly events, as well as a daily page with space for hourly entries, to do items, and notes. Most important was Keith was using the same system, and had committed to coordinating our calendars on a daily basis (these days there are times we check-in even more often).

I keep my calendar within easy reach. At home it’s on my kitchen desk and when I’m away from home, it’s small enough to easily fit into my purse or a pants or jacket pocket. I use the calendar to keep track of appointments, of course, but I also make notations in it, such as:

  • names of new people
  • grocery items
  • book suggestions
  • interesting stories I’ve heard on NPR that I want to share with Keith
  • people I want to invite for lunch or dinner
  • topics for blog posts
  • chores that need to be done
  • plants I want to include in my flower bed next season

Many of these things may seem trivial to others. But I’m the one who gets to decide what is in my calendar, and for me, the more the better.

Keeping my calendar coordinated with Keith’s is crucial since he is my primary caregiver and my major source of transportation. Also Keith is usually the one who keeps me on task; “We need to sit down and go over our calendars,” he gently urges when it’s been more than a day since we’ve collaborated.

The children also understand the importance of my calendar and keep me informed of the grandchildren’s events and activities, family travel plans, or any event which might impact me, as well as those ‘pieces’ that often go in and then right out of my memory bank.

Keeping such an extensive calendar, and having it with me all the time, has eased my anxiety and reduced my stress considerably, as well as increased my sense of independence.  For example, once something is written down I can then ‘let it go,’- knowing I can easily retrieve the information later.  Additionally I can now easily ‘go back’ and retrieve information without having to rely on someone else.  An example is, I often have difficulty remembering the time of my yoga classes, as I go to two different sessions and often mix the times. In the past I would have asked Keith numerous times, for verification. Now I look back on my old calendars and find out myself. I’m also better able to keep track of birthdays, book suggestions, and shopping lists, because they are all located in one place.

Using the Calendar has increased my sense of confidence, capability, and independence. And at the same time has decreased some of my anxiety and stress. Which is not only great for me but for my dear care giver as well.

From the HABIT Team:  We are always so thankful for the thoughts, insights, and skills that our patients bring to this program.  If you would like to read more of Virginia’s writing, please visit her blog page at  virginialaken.com