You discuss something important with your elderly loved one and then follow up the next day, only to find that they have no recollection of the conversation. Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened. Understandably, you’re becoming increasingly frustrated, worried, and exasperated, but imagine how your loved one feels.
Our compassionate and qualified geriatric team here at Waltham Clinic has extensive experience helping both patients and family members navigate the murky waters of memory loss. We understand that the frustration and worry are on both sides, so we thought we’d pull together a few tips for approaching the subject of memory loss with your loved one.
Before we get into some best practices for coping with your loved one’s memory loss, we want to first underscore the point that this type of problem is extremely common. In fact, 1 in 9 adults over the age of 45 in the United States experiences confusion or memory loss. An eye-opening 50% of these people report limitations in their daily activities, from remembering to take their medications to cooking and cleaning.
Nearly 6 million people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s dementia (which is about 1 in 10) and this number is expected to rise to nearly 14 million by 2050 thanks to an aging population.
Now that we better understand the prevalence of memory problems in the aging population, let’s take a look at how you can best manage the problem in your loved one.
Our first bit of advice may seem fairly obvious, but your fear about your loved one’s health might cause you to become impatient. One of the most difficult aspects of memory-related problems is that your loved one is unaware that there’s a problem, while you’re made painfully aware of the situation.
Rather than starting a sentence with, “Don’t you remember …,” stop and remind yourself that they honestly don’t remember. Memory loss isn’t a matter of not paying attention or listening, but a malfunction in your loved one’s brain that affects their ability to store information and create memories.
First, probe gently to see if they remember the topic you want to bring up, and if they show no signs of recollection, take a deep breath and start again. This is especially important if you want to talk to them about their memory loss — you should expect that this is one conversation you’ll be having over and over.
If your loved one’s memory loss gets progressively worse, consider that they’re becoming more firmly planted in the present, and that’s the only context for any conversations you may have. Asking what they did that morning or whether they remembered to take their medicine may only elicit perfunctory answers or half-truths and anger. These types of questions may put them on the defensive.
By the same token, talking to them about the future can be extremely difficult since they don’t have any grasp of the problem.
Keeping to the present moment, on the other hand, can be much safer territory. For example, if you’re at our offices to see a doctor about your loved one’s memory loss and your loved one keeps asking why they’re there, simply explain that you’re there to see the doctor.
Another point to consider is that there’s a good case for not discussing memory lapses with your loved one. These conversations can be tough and leave both sides feeling upset. Not to mention, you’ll need to have this conversation time and again.
If your loved one doesn’t understand what’s happening to them and won’t remember any explanation you might give, perhaps it’s best not to bring up the subject.
Of course, this advice depends upon the extent of the memory loss and how your loved one is coping with the situation.
The best way to figure out how to approach your loved one’s memory loss is to sit down with one of our geriatric specialists. To get started, contact us to set up a consultation.