Are all memories lost for someone with dementia?
Memory loss is one of the hallmark symptoms but early on it is newly learned information that is most affected. As the illness progresses and damage to brain cells continues, it will become more difficult to access past memories.
But until that time there is a wonderful window of opportunity for families and their loved ones to reminisce about their earlier life.
Alzheimer’s and memories
Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia, affects memory, thinking and behavior. As a progressive illness, its symptoms will eventually seriously impact daily life. But the following signs are often apparent with early memory loss:
- Takes longer to recall information
- No longer able to create new memories
- Slow or unable to access information when needed
- Quickly forgets conversations and details
- Struggles to remember the right words, names of people or objects
- Begins losing items due to inability to recall their location
- Not able to recognize familiar surroundings
Reminiscing while the memories are still present
Since not all memories are immediately affected when someone has Alzheimer’s, the person can often still access their experiences from an earlier time. This is why the individual may not remember a conversation from 20 minutes earlier but can recall details from 20 years ago.
By encouraging them to share their memories from the past, you can help create one of the most pleasurable and gratifying activities for both the family and the individual.
It’s truly a gift to give your loved one the chance to be an active participant in a conversation and not as someone on the sidelines who may struggle to contribute or to remember.
Creating meaningful moments
Each individual’s response can be different and you’ll need to find what may work best for your loved one. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few suggestions to help your family reminisce:
- Bring up a story of your own
Sharing a story from your past may help trigger one of their memories. Recalling your favorite teacher or the first time you swam in the ocean may spark a similar recollection.
- Use helpful props
Bringing in objects may also help trigger a memory. Look at old photos, listen to music or watch a video together. You can’t force a memory but sometimes you’ll be surprised at what surfaces.
- Visit their old neighborhood
Google Earth has made it possible to travel around the world without leaving home. Bring in a laptop and explore your loved one’s hometown, first school or the church where they were married.
- Create a memory box
Photos, postcards, old letters, toys or other artifacts from their life can help recall a memory. Put them in a box or create a scrapbook together. Talking about each object might lead to a wonderful story.
What not to do when reminiscing
- Don’t ask too many questions
Although this is how you would normally have a conversation and show interest, asking too many questions of someone with Alzheimer’s may cause anxiety.
Questions that require detailed answers, such as how old they were in a certain picture or what the name of their school was can cause them embarrassment or frustration if they can’t remember.
- Don’t put them on the spot
Again, you’ll want to take your cues from them and their stories. Be a good listener and you may learn something about the person that you never knew before.
You can share some of your similar experiences or provide positive support. But don’t make comments that make them feel pressured to remember a certain fact or feature.
- Don’t fill in the blank or become impatient
Allow them the extra time that may be needed to find the right word or expression they’re looking for.
While they are trying to convey a memory, don’t rush to fill in with words they may be struggling to find unless you can tell it would be appreciated. The key is to create a pleasurable activity, not one that will make them feel anxious.
- Don’t forget to pay attention
If your loved one begins to show signs of becoming tired or agitated, you’ll want to stop and come back another day. Look to their stamina or frustration levels.
But if they’re still talking and the memories are flowing, keep listening for as long as you can. You will never forget how special those moments were.
Life at a Northbridge community
We understand the challenges of Alzheimer’s for both the individual and the family. But beyond the difficulties, we also see the potential and possibilities that can help improve quality of life and bring even simple pleasures to their days.
We also practice the gift of being a good listener. When a person with dementia retells a story several times, they may in fact be sharing a time in life when they felt the most fulfilled or happy.
People are often able to recall how they felt about an event or incident, even if they can’t express all the details. And memories can be triggered by listening to an old song or smelling a fragrance from many years ago.
One example of this is our Signature Program, Memory Making Baking for our residents in memory care. We know that certain activities, such as singing, dancing or baking can help recollect those wonderful feelings of an earlier time. Our program is designed to bring back the powerful senses of smell and taste and help them recall the pleasures of the past.
If your loved one is no longer safe at home or if the needed level of care is exceeding what can be provided, we invite you to contact us to discuss possible care choices. We are here to answer your questions.
Our associates are specially trained in the best practices of Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Families are assured that their loved ones are supported 24/7 to live their best lives, with our programs, activities, healthy meals and social opportunities.
We’re here to answer any of your questions about our senior living communities. If your loved one is living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, we also invite you to download our complimentary guide, Just the Facts: Your Guide to Memory Care.