Whilst memory loss is a difficult condition to live with, as Beth Britton explains there are some simple ways to make life easier.

Symptoms

Of all the symptoms associated with dementia, memory loss is the most well-known. Short-term memory loss tends to be the most common symptom, with longer-term memories being better preserved.

A person with classic memory problems may struggle to remember what happened today, yesterday or last week. On the other hand, they may remember details from 40, 50 or even 60 years ago very clearly.

Memory problems can be immensely frustrating for the person experiencing them, depending on the severity of the person’s memory difficulties they can also produce exasperated responses from those around them.

Managing memory loss is possible however, by taking actions that can empower the person and help everyone to cope better.

Think about how you communicate with a person who has memory problems

There are some key things to remember when communicating with someone who has dementia or memory problems:

Avoid asking questions like:

  • “Can you remember when…?”
  • “Do you remember…?”

Questions like these put a person with memory problems at an instant disadvantage. Whilst you may think you are helping to prompt their memory, this can cause them to feel inferior to you. This can reinforce their memory problems and cause them to feel inadequate.

Try to reframe your questions, so that you’re encouraging the person with your memories, instead of trying to analyse their own.

Remain calm and patient if a person can’t remember something

A person with short-term memory problems may ask you the same question multiple times. This could be because they simply cannot remember your recent answers, and can become frustrating for both yourself and them. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, take a few minutes to regroup.

Also, try to remember to let them take their time when they are asking or answering a question.

Keep information simple

Try to talk about one thing at a time, someone with dementia may not be able to maintain a conversation with multiple threads, so try to keep the flow of your conversation fairly linear, don’t jump from one topic to another.

Avoid background distractions

Try to find places and times to talk when their arent a lot of distractions present, this allows the person with dementia to focus their energy on the conversation.

Modify the environment to make living with memory problems easier

There are a number of simple cues you can put in place to help a person orientate or inform themselves, find items or even remind them of tasks. For example:

Signage

  • Simple signage around the home can help a person know which rooms are which. This should enable them to find their way around more easily.
  • You can add signage to cupboards and drawers, and place simple instructions near appliances like kettles or coffee machines. This means that the person isn’t relying on their memory to be independent in their kitchen.
  • A noticeboard in a prominent area of the person’s home (i.e. pinned to the fridge). This could answer common questions the person might have, and remind them of important upcoming appointments, for example:
    • “What’s for dinner?”
    • “What are we doing today?”
    • “Take medication after breakfast”
  • You can use pictures as well as words to make signage more impactful.

Precautions

  • Try to have a place where items like keys and glasses are always kept. Make that place obvious and provide visual clues as to where it is.
  • Get copies made of important items (e.g. keys, glasses) so if they do get lost, you don’t have to spend a lot of time looking for them.

Equipment

  • Dementia-friendly clocks enable a person to know the day, date and time so that they don’t need to repeatedly ask.
  • If you prefer to keep it digital, there are apps that can provide similar reminders if the person uses a smartphone or tablet device.
  • Consider assistive technology. Devices such as Alexa are increasingly used by people with dementia or memory loss, as they allow for the setting of reminders for important tasks they might otherwise forget.

Find out more about dementia-friendly environments from the University of Stirling’s Dementia Centre.

Celebrate what the person can remember

When a person is living with dementia, life story work can be very helpful in enabling them to enjoy the memories they can recall.

Reminiscing about events and people from the eras their memories seem to be strongest – and bringing these memories alive through life story resources can be empowering for the person, and help to stimulate conversation.

You can find out more about life story work from Dementia UK.

There is a lot of useful advice on putting Life Stories into practice in the ‘Told in South Yorkshire’ resource pack from the Foundation of Nursing Studies.

Assistive technology

As previously mentioned there are a number of types of assistive technologies available on the market now. Many of these are tailored specifically for people with dementia, or have applications which can support them.

Our page on Home Adaptations details some of the more useful types, and our directory lists organisations that provide this type of equipment.

For more information on living with dementia and where you can get additional support, see our article on Living with Dementia.

About the author:

Beth Britton is an award-winning content creator, consultant, trainer, mentor, campaigner and speaker who is an expert in ageing, health and social care https://www.bethbritton.com.