Struggling with memory, or losing one’s memory, is one of the greatest fears of both elderly individuals and their families. There are varying degrees of memory loss and learning the differences between clinical diagnoses will help caregivers and loved ones be more aware of what to look for in symptoms and also how to properly care for someone suffering from any type of memory loss.
Types of Memory Loss
Memory loss isn’t always a sign of a serious disease like Dementia. For instance, forgetting an appointment or losing keys are common forgetful habits of older individuals. These memory lapses are normal especially as we age, and they can be combated with proper memory loss treatment.
This goes beyond normal forgetfulness. With mild mental impairment, the things you forget have more adverse consequences than misplacing an item. These occurrences might include forgetting a birthday or a regular meeting, like church service. Many times, mild impairment is a sign of Alzheimer’s or Dementia. However, this is not always the case. A full consultation with a primary doctor can help monitor any progression of memory loss to determine if it has moved into the Dementia stage.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Dementia is the overarching name for a group of diseases that causes loss of intellectual processing and social skills. Alzheimer’s is Dementia, but not all Dementia is Alzheimer’s. However, Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia, followed by dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) and vascular dementia. (Source: MayoClinic.org)
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease. At first, someone with Alzheimer’s disease may notice mild confusion and difficulty remembering. Eventually, people with the disease may even forget important people in their lives and undergo dramatic personality changes. In Alzheimer’s disease, the brain cells degenerate and die, causing a steady decline in memory and mental function.
Lewy body dementia causes a progressive decline in mental abilities. Protein deposits, called Lewy bodies, develop in nerve cells in the brain regions involved in thinking, memory, and movement (motor control). People with Lewy body dementia may experience visual hallucinations and changes in alertness and attention. Other effects include Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms such as rigid muscles, slow movement and tremors.
Vascular dementia is a general term describing problems with reasoning, planning, judgment, memory and other thought processes caused by brain damage from impaired blood flow to your brain. You can develop vascular dementia after a stroke blocks an artery in your brain, but strokes don’t always cause vascular dementia. Vascular dementia can also result from other conditions that damage blood vessels and reduce circulation, depriving your brain of vital oxygen and nutrients. Factors that increase your risk of heart disease and stroke — including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking — also raise your vascular dementia risk. Controlling these factors may help lower your chances of developing vascular dementia.
At this point, forgetfulness is completely disrupting life. It affects work, relationships, and overall physical well-being. It’s a serious mental condition. If you see warning signs of these serious diseases consult with a doctor immediately.
See the chart below to identify where you or a loved one may fall on the spectrum.
Types of Treatment for Memory Impairment
Short-term memory loss, resulting from a head injury, lack of sleep or a complication to a medicine for example, usually corrects itself over time. Of course, any time there is a head injury or concern about memory loss a doctor should be consulted and the patient monitored.
Typical forgetfulness, which may occur regularly or sporadically, can be addressed more holistically with lifestyle changes.
- Avoid hurrying.
- Follow a routine.
- Have a well-balanced diet. Some studies have shown that increased sugar intake contributes to memory issues.
- Use memory techniques (e.g., mnemonic devices, repeat key information, make associations with landmarks or pictures).
- Participate in regular physical activity.
Long-term memory loss has a clinical diagnosis. Once the diagnosis is made a care plan can be put in place, which can include the daily suggestions above, but also will usually include medication. There are many medications available and a doctor will choose the best one for each patient. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, these medications are showing success in blocking the symptoms. Often more than one medication may be prescribed to help control risk factors of clinical memory loss, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
Interacting with a Loved One with Memory Issues
Spending time with a loved one suffering from any degree of memory loss brings out many emotions in a family and loved ones. It is heartbreaking to see them forget important events and people in their lives. You may feel sad, angry, helpless or frustrated. One of the hardest things to do is to remember that we are responding to a disease, not the person who once was.
NextAvenue.org details 10 top things for loved ones to keep in mind to reduce frustration in both patient and caregiver and you can read their list here. Here a few to focus on:
- Being reasonable and logical will just get you into trouble. When someone is acting in ways that don’t make sense, we tend to carefully explain the situation, relying on a sense of right and wrong to get compliance. However, we need to adjust to their reality and change the conversation.
- People with dementia do not need to be grounded in reality. When someone has memory loss, he often forgets important things like a loved one’s death. When we remind him of this loss, we remind him about the pain of that loss also. When someone wants to go home, reassuring him that he is at home often leads to an argument. Redirecting and asking someone to tell you about the person or his home is a better way to calm a person.
- Therapeutic lying reduces stress. We try to be honest with people. However, when someone has Dementia, honesty can lead to distress both for us and the one we are caring for. Evaluate whether the truth will do more harm.
- Making agreements doesn’t work. If you ask your loved one to not do something or to remember to do something, it will be forgotten. Taking action, like rearranging the environment, is a more successful approach. For example, getting a teakettle with an automatic “off” switch is better than warning someone of the dangers of leaving the stove on.
- Tell, don’t ask. Asking “What would you like for dinner?” may have been a normal question at another time. But now we are asking our loved one to come up with an answer when he or she might not have the words for what they want and even if they answer they might not want the food when it is served after all. Saying “We are going to eat now” encourages the person to eat and doesn’t put them in the dilemma of having failed to respond.
How Assisted Living Services Can Help
Caregivers need to be willing to ask for help. You have the right to the full range of human emotions. Learning to forgive your loved one as well as yourself is essential in the journey.
There are professionals, and a vast amount of resources, that can give assistance so that you don’t have to try and do it all. The most important thing you can do to help your loved one is to have patience. This is a new journey. It is easy to question the disease when your loved one is having periods of clarity. Those are moments to be treasured.
Whether you need occasional relief as a caregiver or long-term assistance in caring for someone facing memory issues, Assisted Living Services can help. Our qualified memory care specialists receive ongoing education and training in working with individuals with memory issues. Additionally, we have several helpful products that allow both patient and caregivers to feel more confident that medications are being administered properly or that someone will be alerted in an emergency.
If you are in a situation where you feel you or a loved one needs help addressing care issues, whether due to injury, memory loss or loss of ability to perform day-to-day tasks, do not wait. We will help you walk through the process and provide solutions in partnership with the caregiver, physician and of course the patient.