Alzheimer’s disease slowly steals away the patient’s memories. Short-term memory deteriorates first, while distant memories remain intact for a while longer.
Coping with a loved one’s loss of memory may be emotionally difficult for family members.
Tips for Coping with a Loved One’s Loss of Memory
Alzheimer’s changes a person’s perception of reality. As the patient loses short-term memory, awareness of the present tends to deteriorate. Instead, the person’s perception of reality is based on memories from the past. This can be very troubling for you and your family, particularly when your loved one confuses close family members with people they knew in the past.
Coping with an Alzheimer’s patient’s loss of memory is much easier when you engage in the person’s perception of reality. For example, if your loved one believes he is in his 20s, take the opportunity to relive his memories with him. Ask him questions about himself, his job and his plans. Understand that his responses are not delusional ramblings, but are based on real recollections from his past.
Trying to reason with the patient is impossible because Alzheimer’s disease interferes with one’s ability to reason. The person doesn’t respond positively to logical arguments and may become agitated. Experts suggest using “validation” techniques, which address the person’s feelings rather than the correctness of the statements.
For example, if the patient is upset because she wants to go home to her mother, rather than trying to convince her that her childhood home no longer exists, ask her questions about her mother and her childhood to divert her attention to more pleasant memories. You may also try gently leading her away from the upsetting situation or initiate a new activity that she enjoys, such as walking in the garden or listening to music. One benefit of her short-term memory loss is that she will soon forget why she was upset in the first place.
Filling in the Gaps Left by Memory Loss
By collecting, displaying and talking about your loved one’s memories, you can help to draw his memories into the present.
- Collect stories from the patient or from people who knew him then write them in a journal and read them back to him later.
- Create photo albums and go through them with him often.
- Decorate his bedroom with special keepsakes and photographs from his life.
- Show home videos.
- Talk about your loved one’s favorite books, sports teams or activities.
Reliving old memories is therapeutic for you as well because it reminds you of who your loved one was before developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s Society (U.K.). (n.d.). Coping with memory loss. Retrieved June 25, 2010, from http://alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?categoryID=200137