The experience of memory loss can be frustrating and distressing, not only for the person with dementia but everyone around them. There are many things you can do to help someone with memory loss.
Coping with memory loss
Memory loss is one of the first signs of dementia. It can often be mistaken for normal forgetfulness. However, memory loss associated with dementia gets worse over time. As dementia progresses, problems with memory loss become more obvious and persistent.
In the early stages of dementia, a person may find it difficult to make decisions or do everyday things. Changes in personality and behaviour can also occur as the person struggles to think clearly.
It is important to find a balance between encouraging independence and keeping someone with memory loss safe and secure. Remember to do things with someone, not for them.
You can encourage independence by giving gentle reminders and simple instructions – be patient and supportive and remember that a person will have both good and bad days.
Remind yourself that changes in the brain are causing memory loss and don’t take things personally.
Remembering the past
Someone with dementia may recall events from the distant past that surprise you but forget a precious moment you had yesterday. Sharing stories of the past and using photographs and mementoes can often help jog a person’s memory. It can also give a person a sense of self worth and value. Keep in mind that a person with memory loss may have frightening memories of the past and need comforting.
Some people with dementia insist that they are living in the past. You can try orientating someone to their surroundings but if they insist it may help to go along with a person’s reality rather than contradict them. Validate their feelings and comfort them if they are upset.
Helping with activities of daily living
Forgetting how to do simple every day things can be embarrassing for a person with memory loss. A person may forget how to use household appliances, get dressed in the morning or make a simple sandwich. It is important that people with memory loss continue to do things for themselves whilst they can.
You can help a person with memory loss by adapting activities or hobbies as memory loss progresses. Try not to take over and do things for someone. Try and keep a sense of normalcy in daily life. Follow familiar patterns and routines.
Identify what areas of a person’s life are important to them. It could be having a cup of coffee with the newspaper every morning or walking the dog in the afternoon. Keep things simple by breaking up tasks into small steps. Give clear simple instructions and repeat information when necessary. Trying to teach someone something new may cause unnecessary stress. Focus on a person’s abilities not shortcomings.
A person with memory loss can find it hard to remember what they have done or intend to do. Establishing a regular routine is important for someone with memory loss as they commonly lose their sense of time early on. Telling someone to ‘Hurry up’ can make a situation worse.
Try and be patient with a person with memory loss. If a person is feeling unwell or tired they may not be able to do a task they managed to do perfectly well yesterday.
Maintaining a familiar environment, keeping things in set places and avoiding unnecessary changes will make a person feel less stressed and more secure. They are also more likely to be able to anticipate what to do next.
Encouraging a person to do the things they are good at gives a person confidence in their own abilities and a level of independence. Giving up hobbies or activities we like to do also means losing a part of ourselves that makes us unique.
Finding balance between activity and rest
Older people with memory loss commonly have other chronic medical conditions that affect their health. It is important to keep on top of any medical conditions as ill health can worsen memory and thinking problems.
Getting a balanced diet, engaging in physical activity and ensuring a person gets enough sleep are all ways you can look after someone with memory loss. People with memory loss can lose their appetite and you may have to prompt a person to eat adequate amounts. Try several small meals a day.
Always ensure someone is drinking enough water. Dehydration can lead to increased confusion, problems with bowels and in some cases delirium. Leave glasses of water around the house to remind someone to drink and carry a bottle of water with you when you go out.
A person with memory loss shouldn’t stop doing things they enjoy. Being active, pursuing hobbies and having a social life are essential to everyone’s well-being.
Communication is a two way process. Both you and a person with memory loss are responsible for effective communication. Not being able to share our thoughts and feelings with someone close can be stressful.
For someone living with dementia it can be especially difficult if they can’t communicate their needs. A person with memory loss may have trouble remembering a word. You might have to guess what they’re trying to say.
Don’t ‘test’ a person’s memory by asking questions during a conversation. Quizzing someone in the middle of a conversation can be embarrassing and hurtful.
If a person doesn’t understand a phrase you can repeat it. Try not to change the wording too much or the order of the sentence. Keep it simple and clear.
Communicating with strangers can be uncomfortable for a person with memory loss and some people may say hurtful things. Remind yourself that most people won’t know how to handle an awkward situation. Don’t talk for a person or take over a conversation.
Using memory aids, leaving instructions and small notes can help jog someone’s memory.