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Tips for Helping the Memory Impaired
Written By : Susan K. Ross 
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Memory loss is not a normal part of aging. Unfortunately there are a number of diseases that affect the elderly and result in memory impairments. It is frustrating for both the caregiver and the person suffering from memory loss when everyday activities are complicated by confusion and difficulty communicating. There are a number of strategies that can be used to reduce stress. Remember, though, that there will be day-to-day changes in the individual's ability to recall information. Plan for the worst and hope for the best.

  • Establish a consistent routine to help minimize stress and anxiety. Be sure that the daily schedule remains as stable as possible even when caregivers change.
  • Predict changes in the daily schedule (physician appointments, outings, etc.) and add them to the daily schedule so that they become "routine" for the day.
  • Make use of written cues in the environment since individuals with memory impairments rely heavily on visual information. Insure that a calendar is readily available and that each day is crossed off as it is finished. Be sure that digital clocks are prominently displayed and indicate AM/PM to help with orientation. Write each day's activities down to make it easy to see what needs to be done. Review the schedule frequently and cross off each activity as it is completed.
  • Keep regularly used items in the same place. Avoid moving furniture, rugs, pictures, etc. This disrupts the familiar.
  • Make use of labels for common objects in the home. Don't just display pictures of family and close friends. Actually label the pictures with captions that tell who is in the picture and something about what is going on (i.e. "Rose and Edgar's 50th anniversary party in 2006").
  • It is easier to recognize than to recall. ("Look who's here! It's your grandson, Bobby.") Refrain from asking the individual to remember names or information. Even if they are able to remember periodically, they won't be able to recall information consistently and this becomes a source of stress for both the memory-impaired individual and their caregiver.
  • If the memory-impaired person is asking the same question repeatedly answer at least two or three times and then write down the answer. If the question is asked again, simply hand the written answer to them without commenting further. The written information that can be read over and over again will help to stop the repetitive questioning.
  • Be sure to address the person by name before asking a question or giving directions. This allows the person time to direct their attention to what is about to be said. After asking a question or giving a direction, remain silent and allow the person to respond. This may take a little bit of time (10 seconds or more) because the listener needs to think about what has been said and come up with an appropriate response. Do not repeat or rephrase the question or direction. Just wait. Ask questions that can be answered with a "yes" or "no" or offer choices. ("Did you want coffee? Do you want orange juice or milk?") Most individuals with memory loss have a difficult time responding to open-ended questions (i.e. "What do you want?")

Keep in mind that the individual with memory loss can become quite confused and frustrated when they can't remember specific information. It rarely helps to "straighten them out". It is easier to just enjoy the moment and eventually redirect the conversation than to correct mistakes.

  About Author
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