“Memory Matters” for ALL Ages LINK TO PROGRAM
Those with changes in memory beyond normal aging, including mild cognitive impairment, young-onset or early stages of Alzheimer’s disease can benefit from a wide variety of memory strategies. Some of the memory issues could be attributable to a wide variety of reversible medical issues or the need for healthier lifestyle choices. Sometimes improving nutrition and hydration, sleeping patterns and increasing your activity level can bring about some benefits. Equally important is maintaining socialization and keeping your mind active. This is something I see in many of my homebound clients and family education and support coupled with developing a personalized plan specific to the needs and interests of the older adult with memory loss can make a difference on many levels.
Some things to think about:
1. Listen to the comments of family members and friends who may minimize the changes of the person becoming more forgetful regarding activity participation or ability to retain information. Things may seem fairly normal and that is often the case when a person is handling things very familiar to them in their own environment. Over a period of time gradual changes may be attributed to the fact that the person is getting “older” when in fact that person may need to schedule a complete physical or consider a geriatric assessment to see if there is cause for concern.
2. Those with young-onset dementia are often still working, volunteering or may be caring for young child or parents. Challenges with multitasking or others bringing more activity to a relatively quiet lifestyle can manifest in anxiety, withdrawal or sometimes difficult behaviors. Complex tasks may be avoided or there may be more errors, perhaps those of omission, which are overlooked until a problem occurs such as a medication error, several utility shut off notices or forgetting appointments or other obligations.
3. Changes may include problems planning trips or special events. This might even include going to familiar places, handling finances or setting up medications.
4. Personality changes are sometimes the only differences that may be observed. With frustration and worry may come depression, outbursts of anger or just withdrawal from activities especially those requiring higher level thinking skills.
It is not unusual for some family members or friends to be aware while others feel there is nothing to be concerned about. While some people are said to be in denial, it has been my experience that some people often do not understand what the changes mean. I have seen some family members refuse to look at what is happening because there is an underlying fear that it is Alzheimer’s disease and that it could be an issue for them in the future.
More education is needed and one of the purposes of the cable TV series “Memory Matters” for ALL Ages was to provide small segments introducing topics that might help people understand what is happening. Hopefully they will then seek out resources in their area for education and assessment as needed to become more aware and create a plan.
My mother lived an 11 hour drive from me but we talked often and she proofread many of my products. At first I attributed some of the difficulty with directions to her hearing loss, but taking her out of her environment eventually helped me see it was more than that. Then again, this is what my profession is all about, so I spent several months observing more carefully. I was sometimes told I was being critical when I was really trying to notice patterns. She was an amazing woman, very smart and skilled in developing compensatory strategies so it took awhile to realize there was cause for further assessment.
Tips to consider:
While many resources are recommended, a speech-language pathologist (SLP) is not a typical referral. After completely assessing the person’s capabilities in a wide variety of areas, the focus of a SLP is to provide ongoing education while developing appropriate strategies to help compensate for the difficulties. At this stage there are often many residual strengths and they can be used to help create an effective system for recall. Periodic reassessments allow for techniques to be updated as changes occur. At all times safety and education of all those involved can help to enhance everyone’s quality of life.
Here are some of the things that might be beneficial and an integral part of the treatment plan.
1. Simplify current reminders systems and/or newly created memory props. This might include the telephone, medication setup, style of calendars, reminder notes, communication lists, revising recipe formats, shopping list reorganization, and systems for bill paying and for handling other financial matters. In the earlier stages of memory loss, sometimes all that is needed is setting up a system that works based on assessment of a person’s previous patterns and current strengths. Seeking the expertise of a speech-language pathologist is an excellent proactive resource.
2. Adapting activities to enhance cognitive engagement. If a person is doing less reading, playing games, calling people, attending functions and/or initiating activities, it probably means it is time to consider an updated plan. Staying engaged matters, so creating activities at a more appropriate level is often needed. Remaining cognitively active may mean modifying the type or extent of activities not only to decrease boredom but perhaps depression. One of the keys to planning is to know their story and that includes what appeals to them and what does not.
3. Ongoing modification is important. When there are changes in cognition, mobility, hearing and/or vision some of the strategies that once worked could be more challenging, less effective and sometimes more confusing. In some cases, reviewing what is not working can be helpful if caught early on and then revised accordingly.
4. New and updated strategies may be too complicated. Many people are well intentioned and suggest updated electronic equipment or other newer options, even the newest model of a microwave, coffee maker or portable phones in the home. In some situations it may not be a problem but it is new learning and that is not always easy as cognition and thinking skills decline even slightly. There are times when caregivers need to meet them at their level with an extra dose of patience and that will mean simplifying and writing down step by step what to do. That will need to be followed up with repeated practice, support and encouragement to see if it is a viable option or not.
TO DO THIS WEEK:
Very often someone attending one of my programs will say that they wish they had this information when they were caring for a loved one. Take advantage of the many resources available to learn more about memory loss as it pertains to your situation. Pass along the links from the corresponding Cable TV series on YouTube series and the numerous related blogs. More importantly share what you learned from your experiences. One of the greatest gifts in my career has been what I learn every day from my patients and their support systems and the other health care professionals.
“That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.” Doris Lessing