In front of a house in Colorado Springs.  Open the door and take a book or leave a book to share. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

In front of a house in Colorado Springs. Open the door and take a book or leave a book to share. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)


Inviting doorway into the children's room of an quaint shop in Abilene, Kansas. Walk through the doorway for exciting new ideas.

Inviting doorway into the children’s room of an quaint shop in Abilene, Kansas. Walk through the doorway for exciting new ideas.

Actor John Barrymore once wrote, “Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.”  Sometimes, however, doors can cause less pleasant results.  According to both Professor Gabriel Radvansky and an article in the QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, doors and doorways can separate episodes of activity and cause confusion and forgetfulness. 

What this means is that all of us, whether we have mostly clear thoughts or worry that we might be next to suffer with Alzheimer’s or dementia, probably find ourselves forgetting things.

For instance, have you ever hurried out the door in the morning, and suddenly you can’t remember the two things on your “to do” list you planned to take care of on your way to work?  Or do you sometimes walk from one room to another to get something, and once you get there you’ve forgotten what it is?

There are several studies on event boundaries, but here’s my favorite solution to this kind of forgetfulness problem:  go back through the door to the place you were when you made the plan about what to do or to get. Stop, take a breath, and when you recall the detail, repeat it to yourself, and then walk back through the door and go on your way.  Do this with a sense of humor, not an exaggerated sense of dread that you might be losing your memory.

I did not know of memory event boundaries when my dad was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, but I realize now that it was one of his coping skills.  Sometimes he would walk out of his office to put on his hat and go somewhere, then suddenly stop. He’d look away, hesitant, and then he’d go back into his office. This might have been to escape the embarrassment of forgetting, but often after a brief pause, he would walk back out of his office again, smiling and ready to do what he’d planned. By going back through the doorway, he had remembered what he wanted to do.

If you haven’t visited yet, I suggest you treat yourself to a terrific blog. One humorous post is about “Quinbloits”—things that only someone over 50 will understand.   My favorite Quinbloit is this: ROOMEMBER: to find yourself standing in the middle of a room trying to remember what you went in there to get. There you have it: if you suffer from a ROOMEMBER, now you know to leave the room to help yourself remember.

As the daughter of a father who died of Alzheimer’s and a mother who suffers with severe dementia, I would never make light of any aspect of forgetfulness or memory loss.  But I also don’t want to cause undue worries by dwelling on natural lapses of memory.  As my primary care physician explained to me, finding your keys where you left them in the refrigerator doesn’t mean you should worry you have Alzheimer’s. But if you find your keys in the refrigerator and don’t know what they are or what to do with them, then we need to talk.

Close up of main door of burnt out building in picture below. Going in and out of this door may bring back memories of a better time before the fire.

Close up of main door of burnt out building in picture below. Going in and out of this door may bring back memories of a better time before the fire, but it’s not a safe suggestion based on the damage from the fire.


View of burnt out doors and windows of church/theater in Abilene, Ks.

View of burnt out doors and windows of church/theater in Abilene, Ks.




Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, life questions, special quotations

54 responses to “MEMORY DOORS

  1. juliabarrett

    I can appreciate your father’s coping skill. Probably helped to increase his recall longer than one would expect. Sometimes I space out and in order to remember what I was doing before I spaced out, I retrace my steps. Works quite well.
    Doors as even horizons or boundaries are an interesting concept.

    • There is something wonderful, compelling, strange and distracting about doors, Julia. Think of all the ways doors are used in poetry reference and plot details. When it comes to remembering things, though, the retracing steps–even back through doors into other rooms–sounds like a good idea.

  2. Molly

    Wonderful blog, momma! I believe doorways can do a lot for a person. For example, just walking in a door of a place you don’t want to be (Dr. Office, a job you hate, court, a funeral, etc.) is enough to make you physically ill. In contrast, when you walk in a door of somewhere pleasant (a family home, church, school, favorite store or restaurant, etc.) it evokes a sense of pleasure throughout the entire body. Doorways, are very powerful!

    • Ooo, excellent examples, Mookie. Good balance between the desirable and undesirable. Remember the little door on the landing of the stairway of your first house? THAT door could have been either a great detail in a child’s story or access to something horrible in a mystery.

  3. I’ve read about this, and find it reassuring 🙂

  4. Have you ever tried it, and did it work for you? Now that I want to specifically try it, the opportunity won’t appear. 😉

  5. I appreciate your solution to event boundaries, even use it my self: the main thing to remember is not get flustered, take a breath, and review where I’ve been. It worked for me yesterday when I left my computer mouse at the coffee shop even though I had to make a trip back to retrieve it. Rats!

    The book “birdhouse” at the beginning of your post reminds me of one I saw recently on Laurie Buchanan’s blog:

    • I hope it works better for you next time, Marian, without having to go all the way back to the coffee shop. My favorite coffee shop is miles away, so that would take awhile.
      If I lost something, I used to be able to retrace where I’d been and what I’d done and finally figure out the place I’d lost the item. I was excited to read this study about event boundaries and walking back through the doorway to catch the thought.

  6. “Hurried” jumped off the screen at me, Marylin. I’ve learned many of my memory lapses are a result of being in a rush. When I slow down and perform actions deliberately, my keys end up in my purse and not the refrigerator. 🙂
    Great post and I love the Barrymore quote!

    • Thanks, Jill. And you’re right about the hurried. One of the other things my doctor said about the keys in the refrigerator was that we’re often so busy and doing so many things at once, that it shouldn’t surprise us when we unload the keys with the milk without realizing it.
      But I’m like you, when I slow down and give myself time to act deliberately, I do much better.

  7. My solution is to use my phone to keep lots of notes. Then I delete them when I have completed the task. I also use lots of scribbled bits of paper. Often I don’t forget but I think I am less likely to do so if I have a safety net.

    Doors fascinate me and I frequently photograph them.

    • I know you do, Andrew, and some of your door photographs are astounding.
      I don’t keep tasks on my cell phone, but I do use stick’em notes to remind myself. I have one whole section of the bathroom mirror covered with notes, and as I complete one appt. or activity, I take down the note.
      When we’re traveling, it messes up my reminder system.

  8. Sad to see the burned out building. Oh my…forgetting…I am doing it more! I have always used lists to keep me straight but now I am forgetting new things in new ways. Ah…life. Loved your door info…just bought a picture of a blue door/window in Santa Fe…hubby framed and hung it yesterday. Yes…doors….interesting…..

    • The building in Abilene was a loss for the community. It had been converted to a dinner theater, and on Saturday and Sunday afternoons it showed current movies. We loved taking our grandchildren there, so it’s a loss of that opportunity now, and Abilene doesn’t have another movie theater.
      I bet we have some of the same blue window/blue door pictures from Santa Fe, Claudia. And mine are framed and hanging on a wall with Santa Fe baskets and pottery art.

  9. I remember when I was a kid I not only remembered the page numbers of the newspapers bur the exact spot where I had come upon a byte of news. The other day I was having trouble remembering a journal I’ve been reading for years. It has been happening for sometime now, ‘Roomembering’ and all —and I am still to read the fine blog you have referred me to— but I am grateful for the example of the key in the refrigerator that I still know is a key.

    • Oh, we are both glad that we still know the key in the refrigerator is a key, believe me! What you say about the page numbers and exact spot is now more trouble for me as well.
      Another problem for me is with novels I’m reading. It used to be that if the book-mark fell out, very quickly I could find where I’d left off and remember all the details leading up to it, etc. Now it’s much harder, and sometimes I’ll read several pages to catch up where I left off.


    Dear Marylin,

    I continue to read your insightful posts every Saturday. Thank you for sending them. My dad is slowly losing his memory. I had to gently re-orient him that my mom is his wife when I called him yesterday. While growing up, my dad was my hero. It is as though he is leaving us yet he is still here. Thanks for sending this.


    Sent from Windows Mail

    • Oh, Sharyn, what you’re doing for you dad is what I had to do for my mom after my dad died, and it’s so hard. Now you’ll trade places and you’ll be his hero (I hate the word heroine) and gently re-orient him and fill in his gaps of memories.
      I’ll send you a longer email later and we’ll catch up on things.

  11. I’m fascinated by doors and boundaries too. I hadn’t heard of event boundaries, but it makes perfect sense given the psychology of passing from one space into another through a doorway.

    • It does make sense when you think about it, Andrea. And once I read the study, I remembered my dad in the early stages of his Alzheimer’s, looking confused, then ducking back into his office for a minute, and then coming back out, smiling and doing better.
      The more we know, the better we understand things.

  12. A great memory tip Marylin – I find each time I speak to my Mother (long distance phone calls) she fades more and more. Always great to read your posts.

    • Oh, Mary, at least you can speak to you mom on the phone. It’s long distance for me to call my mom, too, but I can only talk to her caregiver. It’s been more than a year since Mom could make out what was going or what I was saying, and sometimes she would just shake her head at the caregiver and hand back the phone.

  13. Jim

    Hummmm, excuse me a moment, Marylin, while I go to the top and reread your post. I clicked on this box and forgot what I was gonna say. . . . . 🙂

    Seriously, this week’s blog is very reassuring. At least twice a day I forget my purpose for going into a room. But now I know, “The door did it!” And the door can bring it back. Thanks, sweetie, for a fun and useful post.

    • And thank you, honey, for always pointing out new research and articles about dementia and Alzheimer’s. Without you, this article would still be in my saved email waiting for me to remember it. And our daughter’s insights about doors in her comment added even more for me to think about. What would I do without you two?

  14. I love that little door in Colorado Springs – what a great idea. I love the idea of passing on and sharing a book you’ve really enjoyed.
    As usual, Marylin, a really thought provoking post.

    • There are several of the little “book houses” around the area, Jenny, each painted by the person who set it up. When I saw this one–it was near Memorial Hospital and an elementary school, and I just happened to see it–I went back and donated a box of books to the cause. It seems that plenty were taking books but few were leaving any. But it’s such a good idea. I left several children’s books since it’s on the walking-to-school route.

  15. Marilyn … I love this quote by actor John Barrymore, “Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.” It’s a very positive message about not shutting down after disappointments and hurt.

    I also love your post. I have experienced event boundaries and done what your father did. Once I entered a room and forgot what I was there for. I, too, returned to the room I left. Invariably, it hit me what I was supposed to do. I’ve done this since my early 20’s. So I don’t think it’s just an age/health issue problem. It might also be a sign of a busy, overwhelmed mind. 😉

    • In his case, Judy, I think he ducked back into his office because he was embarrassed that he didn’t know what he’d planned to do. He was always so outgoing and on top of things and loved meeting people–before the Alzheimer’s–so I’m glad that at least for awhile if he went back into his office, through the doorway, he could remember enough to come back out and do well.
      Coping skills are important regardless of our age or needs, aren’t they?

  16. Marylin, I just did this tonight. I walked downstairs to my basement, then couldn’t remember what I went down there for. Then a saw a basket, just perfect for a gift basket I have to make in a couple of weeks for a fundraiser. By the time I dusted off the basket, I remembered what I was in the basement for!
    Thanks for the great suggestion. Going BACK through a door is a terrific idea. xo Joanne

  17. I’ve done that, too, Joanne. I’ll go into another room, forget what I’m there for but then see something else and start using it, and then later remember my original plan. But I think we should blame this on our creative and busy lives, don’t you?
    Going back through a door is a logical thing to try. When I read about it, I hoped I could remember it the next time I needed it. 😉

  18. Oh boy, I often run down the stairs and forget what I was running for. I start doing something else and eventually I remember why I came downstairs . I agree Marylin, we should blame this on our creative and busy lives. Throughout my live I could never remember names. So I can’t blame that on old age.

    • My biggest problem, Gerlinde, is when I’m teaching a writing group. I used to be able to quote famous writers or give accurate details of something I’m read. Now I find myself stalling in the middle of a sentence, trying to catch the thought. Fortunately, I work with people who will wait and smile until I get back on track. 😦

      • Great blog post, I just passed this onto a uisnvritey student who was doing a little analysis on that. And he in fact purchased me lunch because I discovered it for him. .. So let me rephrase that: Thankx for the treat! But yeah Thnkx for spending the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and enjoy learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more details? It is highly helpful for me. Two thumb up for this blog!

  19. Nancy Parker Brummett

    Love the book swap “door.” Says a lot about the resident of that home: trusting, generous and literate! 🙂

    • It’s a delightful little book house, Nancy, not far from Memorial Hospital. When I saw it, I had to drive back, and I was so enthralled that later I took over some books to donate to the cause.

  20. More than 50 years ago my grandmother told me to go back to where I was when I forgot what I was about to do / fetch etc. It has always worked for me. Now I find just visualising going back works. Amazing that now there is scientific evidence and the concept of event boundaries!

  21. That little ‘library’ in your first photo is absolutely adorable Marylin, I’ve never seen anything like that before, what a lovely idea. Here you often see little stands set up outside people’s houses at then end of their driveways, usually in countryside villages, where they either give away or sell jam jars filled with cut flowers from their gardens, or free range eggs and tomatoes, that kind of thing. I may have even seen the odd paperback or two, but never a tiny library like this! I was thinking of you the other day (and I often do, you know!) while drinking my coffee (you’ll be pleased to know..) and our previous chats about memory loss. Once again, what you share here about doorways and the psychological impact they have fascinates me. It makes perfect sense having had many a ‘roomember’ moment (love Shel’s post). As I read this I was reminded of all the times when I used to say to the kids if they lost or forgot something to go back to where they were and retrace their thoughts. I do this now and do find it so helpful so it’s nice to know that this is a good thing and even nicer to know that I don’t have to panic when it happens (which I put down to tiredness, stress and distractions) but I hadn’t realised that the very act of going back through the doorway is in itself helpful. Love the Barrymore quote too. Another wonderful post Marylin, thank you 🙂

    • Your advice to your children was way ahead of its time, Sherri! You’re a groundbreaker. And I’m still thinking about your spider story. This time of year in Colorado, when the days are bright and warm but there’s a threat of chill that lets the little critters know it’s going to be really cold soon, we start seeing all kind of spiders in the house. Sometimes we’ll find spider webs in places that just a few hours earlier had none. Those little guys are fast!
      And I’m still thinking about your flash fiction piece, too. You have that effect on others, Sherri! 🙂

      • The weather in Colorado sounds just the same as here in England right now Marylin and it affects the spiders and their webs in the same way. We get a house full of daddy long legs (can’t remember what they’re called in the States!) which I’ve just found out can bite! I wasn’t worried about them before but will be extra vigilant now 😮
        Ahh…it was so troubling to read about those poor families after I wrote the flash. Originally Bill was going to walk out the front door. Writing takes us to some very dark places sometimes doesn’t it?

      • We call them daddy long legs, too, Sherri. The spiders that scare me the most, though, are brown recluse spiders and black widows. I don’t like to even think about them.
        Your writing is taking on new depths, and you come up with amazing new ideas and topics, Sherri. Keep up the good work.

  22. this certainly explains why I re-trace my steps when I forget something like what I was supposed to do 🙂 great post Marylin. My gran who had dementia was particularly fond of the leaving things in the refrigerator so I had to chuckle at that even though it is no laughing matter. It was our ‘go-to’ place whenever she misplaced her purse or glasses etc.

  23. Oh, Yolanda, this is wonderful. I love that the refrigerator is your “go-to” place when your grandmother misplaces something. It shows a humor and gentle acceptance and support instead of making a big deal about her dementia.
    With my mother, I’ve found that just smiling and taking things in stride is the only way to deal with these things. 🙂

  24. I’ve used the coping skill of going back into the room, but now I am going to add the smile you suggested. Twice this week I forgot what I was going to say to someone as I was having a conversation. I putting it down as having too many thoughts in my head and being pressed for time to get them out.

    I like the pictures of the doors. I just love roomember😄
    Have a great week!

    • Isn’t “roomember” a great term, Elaine? It says it all.
      There are days when the doors feel burnt out (like the old building pictures), but there are often days when the doors feel creative and fun open, like the top pictures. We just do the best we can.

  25. This was a valuable resource, held good reminders and I enjoyed the actual examples given here. Marylin I liked the antique entrance, the beautiful giraffe and the book place to take a book, leave one, so pretty and bright. I think that the last part made me laugh! I do leave things in the strangest places, but the latter part of the sentence, “if you don’t know what they (keys) are or how to use them, then we need to talk” caused me to giggle!

  26. For me, too, Robin. When my doctor said that, it seemed logical and comforting. But then I thought, hey, if I find keys in the refrigerator and don’t know what they are or what they’re for…how will I remember to tell him so we can talk about it? 😉

  27. I never knew physical doors had the potential to affect our thought processes like that. And yet, when the anthropologist in me remembers how important doors or other entryways can be in rituals across cultures, it makes sense. I love how much I learn and think about from reading your posts!

    • That’s the special “extra” from an anthropologist–tying in the importance of doors and entryways in rituals across cultures!!! Yes, thank you for including that. It does make sense.

  28. Hi Marylin, You’ve enlightened me about how walking through doors affect us. I find when I forget things it’s due to the fact that I’m in a hurry. I haven’t left my keys in the fridge…yet. 🙂 Great photos as always.

  29. Good to see you Marylin ,What a wonderful story my friend
    Your Daddy Inspired me a lot , I am forgetful sometimes I think from my vehicle accident long time ago .

  30. Good to see you, too, Jake. I’m glad if my dad inspired you. And he would have been the first one to assure you that vehicle accidents can have long-term effects. I also know he would have enjoyed your graph art displays with famous quotes. You’re doing an excellent job.

  31. I am so behind on my blog reading! I certainly experience Roomember this was a good roominder
    I liked hearing it’s ok to put things in the wrong place, as long as you know what they are and for when you find them. Very comforting.

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