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Posted: September 30, 2005

Spiritual Caregiving

Visual, Audio Memory Aids Enhance Your Medical Recall

Editor’s Note: Mixing technology – some newer and some not so new – can help us remember things we’re told and things we should do, medically speaking. These vignettes offer a couple of prime examples.


Audiotapes Can Help When the News Is Bad

It is hard to imagine a more difficult piece of information to hear than a diagnosis that a dear one has cancer. After the consultation, we often can’t remember many specifics. Now a tool that has been used successfully with adult patients -- taping the initial consultation -- appears to be helpful for caregivers as well.

Stan F. Whitsett, Ph.D., at the University of Washington, and colleagues at Alberta Children’s Hospital, the University of Alberta, and the University of Calgary, enlisted 42 parents of newly diagnosed cancer patients for a pilot study. After their initial session with the oncologist, about half received notes taken by a nurse, and the others received notes plus an audiotape. When both groups were evaluated one week and again six to eight weeks after the initial session, those who had received the tapes had better recall than those who received only notes.

A possible downside: The researchers also found that the tapes caused higher anxiety for some of the caregivers. But if better recall leads to more effective treatment and a greater chance of recovery, most will agree that the anxiety tradeoff is worthwhile.


Can’t Remember to Take Your Meds? Visualize This!

A new study for diabetics reveals that older adults who spend three minutes visualizing exactly where they will be, what they will be doing, and how they will test their blood sugar are 50% more likely to actually do these tests on a regular basis than those who use other memory techniques.

For the study, Linda Liu of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and Denise Park of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign taught 31 non-diabetic volunteers ages 60 to 81 to do home blood glucose tests.

The researchers chose people who didn’t have diabetes to simulate the learning conditions faced by someone newly diagnosed with the disease. The participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups and told to monitor their blood sugar levels at four specific times daily. They were not allowed to use timers, alarms, or other devices.

One group received the "imagination intervention," where they spent one three-minute session visualizing their scheduled blood tests. Those in the "rehearsal" group repeatedly recited aloud the instructions for testing their blood.

Finally, those in the "deliberation" group were asked to write a list of pros and cons for testing blood sugar.

Over the next three weeks, those who had performed the visualization remembered to test their blood sugar at the right times of the day 76% of the time compared to an average of 46% in the other two groups. They were also far less likely to go an entire day without testing than those in the other two groups. Park suspects that using imagination may be more effective than other techniques because it relies on automatic memory, a primitive component of memory that doesn’t decline with age.

Using this technique, you might, for example, imagine taking your pills right after you drink your morning glass of orange juice. The next day at breakfast, taking a sip of orange juice will automatically cue you to take your medication. "It’s not as if you think, ‘Ah, ha! I remember to take my pills now,’" says Park. "It’s more that the orange juice provides an unconscious prompt: ‘Take your meds, take your meds.’"

The research was supported by the National Institute on Aging, a part of the National Institutes of Health, and published in the June 2004 issue of Psychology and Aging.

This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact staff directly via email at

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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