Six Ways to Help Your ADHD Loved One's Forgetfulness

February 16, 2010 Douglas Cootey

Have a loved one with ADHD? Are they driving you as mad as a Johnny Depp character? Are you not only at your wit's end, but into the dim area beyond? Here are six simple things you can try to help your ADHD challenged dearheart fight forgetfulness without taking your sanity over the brink.

tadalistNext time you have something you need done but you fear your ADHD challenged love one will forget, try these:

  1. Get their eye contact - Start off by gently pulling their attention away from whatever is occupying it. If you don't get eye contact, you'll be talking to their autopilot. You can count on your errand never being accomplished. Although tempting, don't scold. Don't threaten. Don't employ guilt. Just matter-of-factly and concisely tell them what you need. Have them repeat it back to you. As simple as this step sounds, if done incorrectly it can be demeaning or trigger insecurities so both parties need to be on their best behavior.
  2. Explain things visually or aurally - Find out how your loved one processes information. Maybe telling them a long list of errands doesn't work for them. It doesn't for me. I need to see time tables, events, etc. all written out visually. That's how I process information, or it's in one ear and out the other. In contrast, those who process things aurally and orally won't necessarily remember if you just write them a note. Talk with them and have them talk back with you to cement the instructions in their mind.
  3. ToDo lists - Once you have relayed the tasks visually or aurally, write them down in a clear list for easy reference, reminding, and checking off.
  4. Set alarms - Alarms with messages that pop up on computers and phones are wonderful reminders. Noise, light, and motion set the ADHD brain in motion and break it out of it's reverie. At the very least, an old fashioned egg timer with a note attached to it can work in a pinch.
  5. Incentives - Sometimes I'm so out of it my wife may threaten to remove something like my keyboard, mouse, or even laptop if I don't follow through on what I promised. She never threatens to take away my iPhone, however, since she knows it is my brain. In fact, I call it iBrain. Sad and tragic, but I'm mindless without it. If threatening punishment sounds too harsh, promises of rewards can be great motivators as well. For example, my wife will purchase licorice caramels and dangle them in front of me like the chewy, black li'l carrots that they are.
  6. Follow-up - Use phone calls, gentle vocal reminders, text messages, sticky notes, etc. Don't get caught up thinking you shouldn't have to. Their forgetfulness isn't a personal slight against you. When following up, try not to nag or pester because the ADHD person will simply tune you out. However, timely reminders are often well appreciated. The fine balance between nagging and gently reminding is one you'll need to work out with them. Each person is different. You'll need to experiment, giving the ADHD person opportunity to provide feedback.

Systems take time and effort to establish, but they are an important key to managing ADHD absentmindedness. Ironically, family and friends can have a hard time implementing these systems because they find them counterintuitive, or they feel that the ADHD-minded person should just grow up. Not very helpful. In these cases, the greatest enemy to these systems is not the ADHD person, but the friends and family who feel they shouldn't have to use them.

Obviously your mileage may vary, so don't be afraid to experiment and talk things over with your loved one. Finding a system that works for you, however, is worth the effort and will ultimately lead to fewer headaches and arguments all around.

APA Reference
Cootey, D. (2010, February 16). Six Ways to Help Your ADHD Loved One's Forgetfulness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Author: Douglas Cootey

March, 5 2010 at 5:28 am

I just found your blog and I am going to read it and share it with everyone I know ! It is so good to see someone else who is living the life so to speak write so well about what it is really like to deal with ADHD -- I have been this way my whole life ( at first I had hyper-kinetic activity disorder, then I had ADD now I have ADHD same person, same stuff, new name ain't life grand!)
Now to share this list with my family!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Douglas Cootey
March, 9 2010 at 6:16 am

Ann, it seems we both missed out being labelled with Minimal Brain Dysfunction. Egads! What an appellation.
I hope your family enjoys the blog as much as you do. Thanks for commenting.

Julie Hartman
February, 23 2010 at 11:08 am

Forgetfulness is one of the worst symptoms for me of ADD. I have probably been ADD my entire life but getting worse through high school (kicked out of because I was truant). I am now a woman of 50 years and my forgetfulness seems to be worse than ever in my life.
My diagnosis is complicated by other disorders of an intense nature. Some times I think it might be some of the antidepressants and other medications of which I take a lot, that causes the forgetfulness. It is good to read that it is very common for ADD's to have memory problems. I have two Masters degrees that I am very proud of one of which is in Clinical Psychology. This knowledge helps. I like the blog.
Thanks for helping me understand and therefore accept that my forgetfulness is closely related to my ADD.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Douglas Cootey
February, 23 2010 at 2:52 pm

As it is said, “knowledge is power”. I’m glad you found our blog, Julie. I hope you continue to read along and leave comments. Thanks.

Robert Wilford PhD
February, 18 2010 at 5:07 pm

It is easy for a Non-ADHD partner to feel over burdened by the need for all of these extra systems to help their ADHD loved one remember seemingly simple things.
It has proven helpful to remind the couple that often these extra systems take only 30 seconds or a minute to actually do, it is the resentment in thinking about "why does my partner need all of this extra help for such easy things" that can last for many minutes, hours or even days.
People with ADHD are super sensitive to being criticized. Since childhood the message has been "you are lazy, stupid and you need to try harder." Be certain that nothing could be further from the truth. Those of us with ADHD have to try twice as hard for only half the reward.
These reminder systems can be lifelines to a successful relationship experience. I urge your Non-ADHD readers to ask themselves "Do I really want to contribute to my partners’ success and ultimately our collective happiness by being brief, connected and concise? Or "Do I want to be scolding and hurtful to my partner who has to try so hard for so little reward?
Living with ADHD is not always easy, and if it takes an extra minute here and an extra minute there to keep love alive in a relationship then I think that is a fantastic return on your investment.
Robert Wilford, PhD
ADHD Expert and Clinical Psychologist

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Douglas Cootey
February, 23 2010 at 2:50 pm

Thank you for posting that, Robert. The extra systems can indeed be burdensome. Either partners of ADHD people learn to adapt to these systems as ADHD people learn to implement them or the relationship will deteriorate. The problem is that people don’t see ADHD as serious a problem as physical disabilities like blindness. Since there is wiggle room for will and determination in shaping ADHD behavior, the tendency seems to be to dismiss all ADHD issues as behavior. Generally speaking, of course.
Great comment

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