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Using Visual Cues in the Home

Using cues in the home can assist individuals with memory impairments to become more independent. The use of cues in the home should be based on the individual's needs as observed by family members and rehabilitation professionals.

Suggested Visual Cues


Label the doors inside the house. Individuals with memory impairment may have difficulty remembering where the bathroom, bedroom, den, or sewing room is located in the home. Hallways with several doors tend to be especially confusing. Pairing a picture cue with the word cue makes it easier for the individual to locate the desired room.


Put labels on drawers, cupboards, and cabinets to label their contents. If the individual has difficulty understanding written words alone, pair a picture cue with the written word. Try not to change the contents of drawers or cupboards. It is important to keep items in the same place to help develop an association between the object and where it is to be kept. It may be beneficial to place labels on the tops of dressers or tables to indicate where certain items should be returned. For example, if an individual usually keeps keys on the coffee table in the living room, place a label on the table to help remind the person to put the keys back in the same location after use.


Use markers on thermostats, air conditioners, hearing aids, heating pads, electric blankets, TV channel changers, oven dials, and so forth to indicate appropriate settings. Large, brightly colored markers that are easily seen tend to work best. Consult with a professional if you are unsure whether it is safe for the individual to use certain electrical appliances.


Write out simple instructions for using appliances and equipment or for completing activities. Keep the instructions simple, and write them out step by step. Place the written instructions next to the appliance/equipment. Some individuals find it easier to use a check-list system in which they are required to check off each step as they complete it. This helps them attend to which step they are on.


Use night lights in the house. Some individuals with memory impairments experience more difficulty when first waking up and may be more disoriented at night. Reflector tape placed at intervals from the bedroom to the bathroom may also assist them in finding their way to the bathroom at night.


Place clocks at easy viewing locations throughout the house. This will help assist the individual in orienting to time. If the person has difficulty reading a clock face, use digital clocks. Large digital and face clocks that are easy to read are available (ask your clinician for suggestions on where to purchase these clocks in your area).


Use calendars to help the individual orient to the current date. Mark off the days on the calendar, and place a movable marker on the current day. (Placing a brightly colored arrow next to the current day works well.) This may help the individual in locating the correct date and decrease frustration.


Use written schedules to help the individual remember scheduled appointments, daily activities, medication schedules, and so forth. If the patient is in a wheelchair, tape the schedule on the lap tray. Memory book systems and electronic computers are helpful for individuals functioning at higher levels. The clinicians can assist in establishing an organized memory book system based on the individual's needs and skill level.


Safety checklists located at the front door may help the individual to do a "safety check" to make sure appliances are turned off, heat/air conditioner is turned down, lights are turned off, and so on, before leaving the house. The individual may need training to use the checklist consistently when leaving the home.


For individuals who have difficulty remembering the names of important people (such as relatives and clinicians), develop a picture book containing biographical information about each person. Periodically review the pictures, cuing the individual to recall the information. Write down an association for the person's name and face, and rehearse the association to enhance recall.

Placing visual cues to the environment can help some cognitively impaired patients complete daily tasks more independently. Calendars, emergency phone numbers, cupboard labels, and written directions are all examples of visual cues that can be placed in the home. The clinician should identify the problems that the patient is experiencing in the home environment and establish visual cues to help the patient compensate for those problems.

Environmental cue stickers can be used to mark doors, cupboards, and dressers to assist patients in locating rooms in the house and items in the rooms. Marking doors using word and picture labels can assist some patients with pathfinding in the home. This strategy can be especially helpful for some patients who exhibit wandering/searching behaviors. The picture and word label helps the patient quickly identify where each room is located.

Below are some examples of environmental cues.  You may wish to consult a speech therapist to access other pictures if you are unable to draw your own.

Examples of Environmental Cues

stop - do not enter


Safety Checklist

___  Turn down heat/air conditioner

___  Turn off stove/oven

___  Turn off lights

___  Turn off iron

___  Turn off electric blanket

___  Turn off stereo

___  Close/lock windows

___  Turn on answering machine

___  Take house keys

___  Take your purse/wallet

___  Check for I.D. in wallet/purse

___  Take your watch

___  Take your memory book