Watching a parent struggle with memory loss is unsettling. The signs may be as simple as forgetting the name of a favorite restaurant or familiar street. However, the extent of memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia brings greater concern and many challenges. And when a husband or wife experiences early onset of the disease, it may be even more difficult to reconcile.
Memory loss increases the challenge of in-person visits and telephone conversations for all involved. When the right words just won’t come, your loved one may grow frustrated and lash out. Also it’s tough to accept that someone who has always been strong and confident now falters in recall and the ability to express thoughts.
Resident Jim Ash could literally write both sides of the story. His wife, Marlene, was diagnosed early with memory loss. He cared for her at home, with professional help, for as long as he could. After suffering three strokes himself, he realized that he as well needed some assistance. Jim moved both of them into assisted living at the Terraces; and only a year later, he transferred Marlene into the hands of the community’s memory care professionals.
Jim says her transition to memory care was smooth, since the change was less jarring than it would have been if she had moved directly from their familiar, longtime home. He credits the entire staff for their patience and compassion. Their vigilance and concern gave him the peace of mind he needed to be confident in his wife’s care, so that he could attend to his own health challenges.
The couple currently resides in the same building, which lets Jim visit Marlene when he wants, as many as five times a day. Although she typically does not recognize him, he is grateful for the chance to maintain contact. He gets support from friends and neighbors, and turns to his faith in order to cope with the gap created by memory and physical health decline.
Staying engaged helped, Jim says. The lifestyle team at The Terraces always find ways to entertain memory care residents with various activities, and he keeps his mind busy by reading a lot and learning new things. Right now, he is learning how to play bridge. Once a month, he takes advantage of a support group led by the Alzheimer’s Association.
How else can family members cope with the realities of caring for a loved one living with longterm memory loss? New issues crop up as time goes by and symptoms multiply or become more severe. If you are an adult child or a concerned spouse, ask for guidance when interactions with a loved one break down. Medical professionals are trained to help you manage communications and relationships strained by memory lapses.
It helps when everyone involved understands that some degree of memory loss is a normal part of aging. We’ve identified some coping tips to draw on when frustration and fear begin to affect a loving relationship. Try some of these yourself, and share the rest with someone you love who has been affected by memory issues.
Support for your loved one with dementia
Patience rules. There’s no point in getting angry with a parent or spouse who can’t remember a fact or details of the past. Individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia may not even remember your name or that you are a relation, but you can’t take that personally. Pause and remember that people affected by these conditions have no control over memory lapses and are not intentionally trying to upset you.
It’s okay to change the subject. If memory issues derail a productive conversation, don’t push the issue. Just be gracious and move on to a new topic.
The substance of the relationship is what matters, not the details. Visits and interactions can still be positive when you focus on a lifetime of history instead of the shorter period of memory decline. Instead of dwelling on memory issues, remember your parent’s lifelong spirit or what drew you to your spouse in the first place, and show your love in return.
Support for those who’re developing memory loss
Don’t blame yourself. Most people will experience some type of memory loss as they grow older.
Find out why. Memory testing by a medical professional explores the cause of individual memory loss. It may be a typical result of declining brain function. Certain medications, vitamin deficiencies, and thyroid conditions may also be responsible for memory problems. A diagnosis will help you manage memory issues appropriately.
Take all your medications as prescribed, especially those used to address memory loss. If you have trouble remembering to take daily doses, get a reminder app for your phone or ask a friend or family member to help you work out a plan.
Fall back on your sense of humor. Making light of small memory lapses will help you and your family work through frustrating transitions. When minor lapses of recall occur, you can defuse anxiety in yourself, family members, or caregivers with a smile or joke.