Memory loss is one of the primary characteristics – and challenges – for those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Caused by the progressive damage to brain cells, as yet there is no cure and the memory loss cannot be stopped. But families can find ways to support the memories their loved one does have or help minimize the negative consequences affecting their quality of life.
Research continues to examine whether there are activities that may give our thinking skills a boost or possibly slow down memory loss. One study found that exercising the brain might delay a decline but once Alzheimer’s symptoms began, the decline actually sped up. The conclusion was that the mentally active brain may have overcome the initial symptoms from appearing sooner.
Sometimes, and often due to the frustration and exhaustion of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, families may find themselves upset when their loved one can’t remember what has repeatedly been said but can retell the same childhood story that occurred 40 years ago. It can be hard to understand and may mistakenly be seen as their choice regarding what and when to remember, but of course that’s not true.
This ability instead is thought possible due to the fact that old memories are better encoded. In other words, the person has likely processed those memories several times. Also, new or recent experiences register in the part of the brain that is one of the first areas disturbed by Alzheimer’s. What your loved one is able to remember depends on the level of the illness.
It’s not clear whether those without a cognitive disease can really improve their memory, however research does reveal that the benefits of keeping the brain active may help reduce brain cell damage or support new nerve cell growth.
Although mainly substitutes, here are recommendations that can help your loved one when genuine memories are fading or are no longer there.
As a cognitive disease progresses, the best you may be able to do is to find ways to replace what was once their own intact memory. These recommendations may make it easier to perform common daily tasks. Some of these are from caregivers and their own experiences.
Although those with Alzheimer’s or dementia can often retrieve long held memories, as the disease progresses over time, those will be lost as well. The time may come when they won’t even remember familiar faces but it’s important to understand that this is no fault or choice of the person.
Try to remember to:
There are many challenges of a cognitive illness and memory loss can be one of the most difficult. But there are ways that you can encourage them with their memories in the early stages and find alternatives to help supplement or substitute as those memories fade.
At Ingleside’s Memory Support Assisted Living, we are here to support not only your loved one but yourself as well. Our staff is an important resource and can help you find the best ways to communicate and navigate through this disease.