Forgetfulness and memory lapses are common among older adults, and can be frustrating and embarrassing. As we grow older, we experience changes that can cause glitches in the brain functions that we have always taken for granted. Because it takes longer to learn and recall information as we age, we’re not as quick as we used to be, which can lead to feelings of frustration when we forget everyday things.
Memory loss with age happens because the region of the brain responsible for memories starts to deteriorate, and hormones and proteins that protect and repair brain cells decline. Older adults are also less efficient at absorbing brain-enhancing nutrients, which makes some memory loss a natural part of aging.
For this reason, most people experience occasional lapses in memory that are a normal part of the aging process and not necessarily a warning sign of serious mental deterioration or the onset of dementia. However, when memory loss with age becomes so severe that it disrupts your work, hobbies, social activities, and family relationships, then it is time to see a doctor and get evaluated.
When a loved one has been evaluated and is diagnosed with severe memory loss such as Alzheimer's disease, it can be challenging for the person diagnosed as well as their caregivers. Even though there are no medical treatments for curing severe memory impairments, changing the way things are done at home can help.
1. Use Lots of Hints and Reminders
Talk frequently about things that are coming up and important events that need to be remembered. Incorporate these reminders naturally into conversation so that it doesn't make the person feel foolish, or point out the fact that they can't remember on their own. Also use hints like "let's make sandwiches for lunchtime," which can help remind them what time of day it is and what meal is coming next. Words with context such as "lunch," "dinner," or "bath time," can be more useful than using numeric values such as "3 o'clock."
2. Use Calendars and Clocks
Make sure there are clocks placed throughout the house, and keep blinds and curtains open during the day so that it is easier to keep track of the time of day. Before getting in bed, visibly cross off the day on the calendar so that the new day is apparent in the morning.
3. Keep Old Photographs and Mementos Around
While these will not necessarily jog any present memories, they are important to have around because they can be comforting and provide reminders of family and friends. People with severe memory loss are often better able to recall events in the distant past, so having heirlooms and pictures around the house can help to provide a means to recall these comforting memories.
4. Keep Choices Limited
Remove the need for extra choices to be made which can confuse and upset the individual. For example, only leave a few shirts and two pairs of shoes in the closet, keeping the other items in a separate, locked closet. And when asking for the individual's preference, limit choices and distractions by asking "do you want" questions, such as "do you want to wear the black shoes?"
5. Use Night Lights Around the House
People with severe memory loss can easily become disoriented at night, so keeping night lights around helps them know where they are if they wake up in the middle of the night and need to use the bathroom. Also, keeping the house illuminated helps prevent injury due to falls or bumping in to objects.
6. Provide for Other Sensory Changes
Changes in other sensory organs comes along with severe memory loss, meaning taste, hearing and sight might also be compromised which can be confusing and even lead to depression. Be aware of this as a caregiver and be sure the individual gets the proper glasses or hearing aids if necessary, and try cooking with more spicy or flavorful foods to compensate for deteriorating taste buds.
7. Show Not Tell
Because of the way the brain works, someone with a progressive memory disorder such as Alzheimer's would have a poor declarative memory (related to recalling facts), but still have a strong, healthy procedural memory (related to recalling how to do things). Thus, someone with Alzheimer's may be able to learn new skills or remember how to do tasks by practicing in small steps how something is done. It may take several weeks of patient practicing, but the sense of accomplishment and independence after learning the task is worth the effort.
8. Keep a Set Routine
People with severe memory loss do not function as well when there are changes and surprises in their day, so activities should be done at the same time and in the same way every day as much as possible. For example dressing before breakfast, watering the plants before lunch, and eating meals and exercising at the same time every day. If there needs to be a change, such as a vacation or a visit to the doctor, tell the person all the information beforehand in a positive, friendly way.
If you are worried that you or your loved one's memory loss might be getting serious, you can start by taking a quiz to test the severity of memory loss, but you should always see a doctor to confirm the results and start seeking treatment. People who are diagnosed with severe memory loss such as Alzheimer's or dementia often require constant and daily care to help provide for their needs, so do not feel overwhelmed or guilty if you cannot handle the care on your own - professional in-home care services can help your loved one remain safe, happy and under control in the comfort of their own home.
At American In-Home Care, we always refer compassionate, qualified, care providers that specialize in a variety of services, including Alzheimer's and Dementia Care. Contact a Client Care Liaison at any time to set up a free assessment of your in-home care needs; they can provide you with additional information about which care options are right for you and your family. We are available to take calls 24/7 at 1-844-505-0004.