Dealing with Memory Loss in a Loved One
When families are faced with memory loss in their loved ones, many do not know where to start. Taking the first steps in figuring out how to best care for them can feel daunting. In reality, caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias often takes a village, and it’s important to know that you’re not alone in your caregiving journey.
Sadness and concern are natural emotions when you see a loved ones’ memory decline, but it’s important to focus on what they can still remember and do, versus what they can’t… and the same goes for you! Examine how your loved ones’ memory loss shifts your relationship and role in their life and discuss it with a professional and others in your support network — and know it’s okay to ask for help. Part of living with and embracing memory loss in a loved one is adjusting to your new normal, and knowing what to expect and the resources available can help to make the transitional process easier.
Here are the top 10 things we recommend keeping top of mind when dealing with and caring for a loved one with memory loss:
Get educated. Whether it’s Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, learn as much as you can and rely on others to help educate you along the way, to best understand the challenges and changes ahead.
Plan ahead. While it may seem extreme to plan for the end at the beginning of the disease, it’s important that key professionals are involved to help guide you to make informed and sound decisions for the future. This includes but is not limited to financial and legal advice.
Adjust your expectations. Set realistic goals and learn to expect the unexpected and roll with the punches.
Curb frustration. Try not to sweat the small stuff or argue with your loved one over a forgotten memory or confusion. And when they are struggling, respond with brevity and don’t overwhelm them. Even in a moment of confusion, remember that your loved one can still often recognize emotions.
Talk, talk, talk. Talking about your loved ones wishes upon diagnosis in the early stages of the disease is crucial to ensure that you are able to honor your loved one’s personal wishes when they are unable to advocate for themselves on their own. As they progress, discuss what can and can’t be done on your own, and discuss shared memories when they are triggered or vibrant. Social interaction is a great way to combat depression and stress, both of which can contribute to memory loss. Look for opportunities to get together with loved ones, friends and others within the community.
Plan physical activities. Physical activity increases blood flow throughout the body, including the brain, and is extremely important for those with memory loss. Get active together as a shared bonding experience with your loved one. Go on walks, get fresh air… daily moments of movement are key.
Use thought-provoking prompts to foster engagement. Share photos, stories and activities to facilitate the reminiscing process. Music, art, and cooking are some ways to trigger fond and happy emotions. However, each individual responds differently and therefore a personalized approach is needed.
Maintain a healthy diet and sleep schedule. Diet and sleep are important for everyone, and that much more important for those facing memory loss and those caring for them. Staying on schedule will help to consolidate memories and curb confusion.
Don’t lose yourself. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lost, especially as the memory loss progresses, personalities change and physical limitations become prevalent. Try to meet your loved one in the now, wherever that now is, and seek help when you need respite to avoid caregiver burnout. You are not alone, and you are doing the best you can.
Connect with others. Allow yourself to engage with others in your shoes, and with experts to help you through the journey. The Alzheimer’s Association has amazing resources, a 24/7 helpline and message boards. And beyond that, you’d be surprised by just how much support and activities geared towards family caregivers just like you exist within your community.
Caring for a loved one facing memory loss can be challenging, and can often feel lonely and thankless. There will be good days and there will be bad days. Take advantage of the time you have with your loved one, and know that you are not alone.
At Pleasantries Adult Day Services, we’re here to be a part of your caregiving journey. We offer a daily on-site care program in the MetroWest region for attendance 2-5 days a week, providing a much-needed respite for family caregivers. We also host a monthly Caregiver Support Group and our monthly Create a Better Day Memory Cafes. These extra layers of support are free and open to everyone in Marlborough, Massachusetts and the surrounding communities, whether your loved one attends our Pleasantries program or not. We’re here to help and connect you with others experiencing the memory loss journey you and your family are going through.