Living With Memory Loss
Memory loss is a component in all forms of dementia, a problem which will affect around 10% of people at some point in their lives and affects more than half of people over 85. This can be one of the most problematic factors in the disease, especially in the early stages, and is typically the factor which leads to diagnosis; human minds are essentially the combination of all knowledge and experience possessed by the individual, in combination with their conscious and unconscious tendencies and biases, memory loss can be particularly difficult to cope with. However, as medical care constantly advances and we get better and better at caring for those suffering from cognitive impairment, it becomes more accessible to manage and treat this condition.
Memory loss affects different people in different ways, but some common problems can be easily identified: forgetting recent events such as conversations, forgetting words or names, and struggling to perform familiar tasks, even if they were once automatic. Other related difficulties can be more problematic, for example getting lost in familiar surroundings, forgetting appointments or neglecting to take medication.
One of the biggest problems involved in memory loss is our instinctual and well-reinforced tendency to self-criticism and frustration. This can result in a loss of self-confidence which can be exacerbated by social situations becoming more opaque. However, there are a number of approaches which can help individuals to arrive at the most comfortable situation possible.
A regular routine can be helpful in aiding memory, as can the maintenance of a diary or journal. Reminders like sticky notes can also be enormously helpful, as they are essentially designed as a way of physically exporting memories. There’s a wide variety of technology available like automatic calendar clocks and the ability to annotate smartphone calendars and set reminders.
Most of the most effective approaches, however, is to focus on others working to change their attitudes and responses. Avoiding telling people that they have heard information before (which can only cause frustration) is one of the most basic changes we can make. In most situations, it’s helpful to simply ask oneself if it really matters whether the information has been retained; often forgetting a recent conversation will have no meaningful impact on either party. Communicating clearly and simply is important, and meaningful context and cues can be very helpful. Consider the difference in clarity between “got everything?” and “you mentioned you wanted to go for a walk, are you ready to leave now?” Focus on one piece of information at a time, keeping it as simple as possible and regularly repeating it if necessary. Aim to keep questions simple and specific too, ideally providing options instead of posing questions in an open-ended format.
Reducing distractions like background noise and the number of people in an environment can be helpful, and it’s also important to remember that tiredness and stress are big distractions for a healthy person at the best of times, and that individuals living with memory loss will perform much better when they are relaxed and well-rested, and usually at certain times during the day.
Dealing with the non-social side of memory loss is mainly a matter of changing how certain activities are approached. Having copies of important item, keeping environments tidy and having dedicated places where items will ideally always be kept can be helpful in dealing with the problem of misplacing things. Assistive technology, simplified processes and printed instructions can help with day-to-day tasks which have become difficult, and something as simple as a GPS system can make all the difference in enabling people to navigate their environment and stay safe.
In the context of a care or nursing home, the quality and level of training exhibited by staff, the degree of planning which goes into day-to-day activities, the structure and flow of the environment, and the amount and types of experience which staff and management possess can be the defining factor in the quality of life of the individual.
Above all, emotional support can be the most important factor. After all, the main problem with memory loss is the way it ultimately makes the individual feel. Encouraging people to talk about their emotions, working through issues together, focusing on the immediate rather than remote future, and encouraging people to spend as much time as possible doing things they genuinely enjoy can be enormously helpful in assisting those living with memory loss to live the most fulfilling and satisfying life they possibly can.
Signature offers market-leading, award-winning memory loss care. We would love to show you how we can help your loved one live positively with memory loss.
Book a visit to one of our homes here, where we can talk you through the care options available.