Strategies – Not Just Hindsight Wisdom!

Maintaining functional independence is a top priority for older adults, and therefore, it is important to understand which factors contribute to better daily functioning. Older adults significantly differ from one another in the way functional decline occurs in the later stages of life. Indeed, some of us maintain relative stability over many years, while others may experience sharp and rapid deterioration. While cognitive functions directly and significantly impact daily functioning, the reasons for the large differences between individuals are still not fully understood.


What are compensatory strategies, and what is their purpose?

Researchers estimate that the level of daily functioning in older adults depends on the extent to which they have developed compensatory strategies to assist in reducing the impact of natural cognitive decline that occurs with age.


To develop compensatory abilities, one needs to learn what resources they have and how to adapt them to their living environment to achieve, maintain, and enhance independent functioning. Strategies are techniques and methods that we develop or learn to help us perform actions more efficiently, quickly, accurately, and consistently. Most of us develop strategies unconsciously while acquiring new skills or facing a challenge, asking ourselves, “What is the fastest and best way to do this?” Sometimes strategies serve us to compensate for a specific difficulty or to bypass a lost ability, temporarily or permanently, to reach a goal, much like using crutches after an injury.


There is a wide variety of strategies, and they can be categorized into different types. Some involve the use of external tools, such as a calendar and reminders for organizing the week and completing tasks. Others involve the use of internal tools, such as creating a mental narrative to remember how to reach a specific address. Strategies can also be categorized based on the domain they assist us in – learning, task performance, or trip planning – as well as the cognitive domains they are related to, such as attention, memory, or problem-solving. It is important to note that the more strategies we have, the more self-aware we become. We will be able to identify what is challenging for us, we will be more flexible, and we are likely to cope even when a solution seems absent at first.


Memory Compensation Questionnaire (MCQ)

Bixson et al. published a reliable and comprehensive self-report tool called the Memory Compensation Questionnaire (MCQ) in 2001 to measure the usage patterns and extent of compensatory strategies for memory decline in older adults. The MCQ has several advantages as it includes questions about real-life memory difficulties and subjective feelings about memory performance…


Tomaszewski Farias, S., Schmitter-Edgecombe, M., Weakley, A., Harvey, D., Denny, K.G., Barba, C., Gravano, J.T., Giovannetti, T. and Willis, S. (2018). Compensation strategies in older adults: association with cognition and everyday function. American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias, 33(3), 184-191.Dixon, R. A., de Frias, C., & Ba ̈ckman, L. (2001). Characteristics of self-reported memory compensation in older adults. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 23, 650–661.

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