Updated 08/22/2021 – Memory changes can come on due to an illness, a disease or are sometimes just a normal part of your aging process. They are difficult to deal with, no matter what age you are – not only for the person having them but for those around them as well.
It affects all aspects of life and raises many concerns for safety.
But there are some things that older people and their caregivers can do to make their lives easier and safer.
7 Ways You Can Help Your Elderly Parents Who Suffer From Memory Loss
My sweet mother-in-law just turned 99 years old. She is independent, lives alone, does not use any in-home care service and is extremely active. Last week, for her birthday I told her I was sending her 12 books to read, one for each month of her 99th year.
We spoke about the kinds of books I ordered and how I hoped she liked them all. She was so kind and appreciative. We spoke on this topic for about 15 minutes.
Yesterday, she called me to ask me why is she receiving so many books from me? She had no memory of our conversation.
Although she has no other signs of declining health, it’s very difficult to escape problems with memory issues as she ages. Of course, serious memory problems are not inevitable. Just like any muscle in your body – the more you use it, the less likely you’ll lose it.
But, there’s no “cure” as of yet for general memory loss. The best treatments available today work to slow it down.
If an older person in your life is demonstrating the kind of memory problems that are affecting his/her daily life or presenting a safety hazard, the first step and most important thing adult children can do is to check out the person’s overall health with their family doctor.
You never know – what seem to be signs of dementia may actually be from medication side effects, certain medical conditions, or even dehydration, so you want to have that looked into.
If everything checks out health-wise, the next steps are seeking the services of an Occupational Therapist or other healthcare providers to help with some memory therapy.
No matter if the aging parent lives at home or in a nursing home or an Assisted Living facility – there are things that you can do to make life easier and safer.
1. Should I Correct Someone With Memory Loss?
Whether or not to correct older adults with memory problems depends on the severity of the problem.
- If they have been diagnosed with Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, then it’s likely not a good idea to try to correct them.
- If it’s very slight short-term memory loss (like most of us have – no matter what age), then it’s likely the right thing to do.
When I interned as an Occupational Therapist, I was living in South Florida. The majority of patients in hospitals and rehab centers were elderly – and many of them had mild to severe memory problems.
The thinking back then was that if the patient said it was 1953 (when it was actually 1990) we were supposed to correct them. If they said that their mother was coming to pick them up soon, we were supposed to remind them that their mother had passed away many years ago.
As you can probably imagine – this was not a good approach and made for very difficult conversations. My poor patients became frightened, anxious and even more confused.
Thankfully, that only lasted my first year as an OT – then medical professionals realized it was impacting the mental health of dementia patients and the approach evolved to what it is today.
Which is that if you are aware of memory problems in your elderly loved one – and they make a statement that isn’t true or they forget an event (like the conversation I had with my mom-in-law) just go along with it, let it slide and don’t make an issue of it.
This technique is called Therapeutic Fibbing and it’s very effective.
At the end of the day, it serves no purpose to continuously try to correct someone with any form of dementia, whether slight or severe. They aren’t purposely forgetting! Their brain function just isn’t what it used to be. It is a form of brain injury.
So, for example: If your mother tells you that the doctor appointment is at 2pm on Thursday – your response could be something like “Oh, I thought it was at 4pm on Wednesday – let me check because I get things mixed up sometimes.“
Or – if she mentions that her husband is coming home for dinner (but he is deceased) simply begin talking about some memories of him. He is on her mind and in my experience, it should help her to speak about him. Gently move the conversation to other family members, events, topics, etc.
I would also recommend asking your doctor to prescribe some therapeutic interventions with a social worker who can help you to improve your communication with someone with memory issues.
Also look for a support group in your area or even online. Speaking to other caregivers who are dealing with these same issues can be a great help.
2. Let Go Of What You Think Is Logical
If the memory loss in your older parent is due to dementia or Alzheimer’s or some other issue that is causing this cognitive decline – expect that their thought process may also be impaired.
You may know that it makes sense to make one trip to both the grocery store and the drug store but your loved one is insisting to come back home after the grocery store.
That’s a very simple example but I hope you get the idea of what I mean.
In these cases you need to do all you can to avoid an argument and increase their agitation which normally only increases their confusion.
So, you may begin by going along with their idea but perhaps by the time you finish one errand and start heading to the second stop of the journey, they may have forgotten that they requested to just do one errand.
This is all very subjective and depends entirely on your senior loved one but the main tip here is to do what you can to avoid escalating the conversation to an argument.
3. Agreements and Deals Won’t Work
Many family caregivers try to create written (or oral) agreements with their elderly loved ones. They also try to bargain with them in order to get some cooperation over an issue.
An example of something a caregiver might say to her elderly parent would be something like…
“If you take a shower now then we can go to the movies this afternoon.“
Tactics like this don’t normally work simply because the senior parent is not able to remember it and/or able to process what you are saying to them. Even if they respond with an affirmative and appear to comprehend. This of course depends on the severity of their memory loss.
The tip here is to avoid using these types of strategies – they normally do not work.
4. Keep To A Schedule
It’s very important to keep to a schedule and better if you can keep to the schedule that the senior person has been adhering to.
I remember years ago, we had a patient (let’s call him Sam) come into our unit with mild dementia. Although Sam was able to dress himself and feed himself he desperately needed to keep to his schedule.
He would get up every day at the same time, read his newspaper at the same time and watch his favorite TV shows at the same time.
But every day, around 4 pm he would walk out of the unit and sometimes, out of the facility. After the first time, we put an alarm on his clothing to alert us if he got out again. And he did. So, we asked his daughter what did he do every day at 4 pm?
Her answer was “He went to the corner bar.“
So, our Recreation Therapist (who was amazing) built a “bar” of sorts in the Rec Room. She served peanuts and juice and after about two weeks of redirecting Sam towards the Rec Room at 4 pm he began going there himself. It was a perfect solution for him during that time.
5. Use Post Notes and Signs Everywhere In The House
For some seniors with memory problems, posting signs and notes up are very helpful. It’s important to know that if memory loss continues to get worse, they may be able to READ what they see but they will lose the ability to COMPREHEND and/or REMEMBER what they just read. This is very important especially when it comes to taking medication.
In the rehab hospitals I worked in, many doctors would often tell me the patient was good to go home and live independently because the doctor asked them to read their prescription instructions and they were able to do so.
But I would often counterpoint by asking the patient to again read the instructions on the pill bottle and then tell me what those instructions meant. Gotta say, that 9/10 times they weren’t able to do so because although they could read the words – they were not able to comprehend them and/or recall what they had just read.
But if notes DO work for you or your senior loved one, then the types of notes you could post up would be things like…
- Turn off the stove.
- Lock the door.
- Close the window.
- Keys are in the laundry room.
- Phone numbers (or the speed dial numbers).
- Take your medicine at 10:00 am.
6. Alexa and Google Home To Remind Them Of Tasks
Many have seen this very funny SNL skit on seniors attempting to use Alexa. Although they are exaggerating the issues (for comedy) the truth is that learning to use technology is not an easy task for the elderly. Who knows what WE will be having problems with as we get older!
But, for safety matters, technology can really be a very useful tool.
You can use Alexa and Google Home to give you verbal reminders on a daily basis. This works well for medications, appointments and other daily tasks. Set up Reminders on these types of tools and both you and your senior loved ones will be told when to do what!
7. Incorporate Memory Sharp Foods Into The Diet
The following fruits contain plenty of antioxidants, which can lessen the brain’s inflammation and stress and improve brain function, which in turn may prevent seniors from getting Alzheimer’s. These fruits are:
- Avocados (yes, they’re a fruit)
Don’t stop with just the above fruits! The following edible eats contain antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids that could heal damaged brain cells and even create new ones.
Here are the foods to incorporate into a senior diet to help decrease cognitive decline:
- Soybeans and other soy-based foods: Soy has polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that keeps up our cognition and may help seniors avoid dementia.
- Kale: The glucosinolates in kale boasts minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.
- Broccoli: Another great veggie for seniors is broccoli. It too has glucosinolates. Besides that, its antioxidant content is high, its isothiocyanates could control oxidative stress, and it’s low in calories.
- Eggs: Although eggs have gotten a bad rap in recent years, they can be healthy. It’s possible that the folic acid, vitamin B-12, and vitamin B-6 in eggs could slow down how long it takes for a brain to fall into decline. They also keep the brain from shrinking.
- Peanuts: Mulberries and peanuts alike contain an antioxidant called resveratrol. This could keep diseases and conditions like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and cancer at bay.
- Coffee: Coffee may also help the brain. It turns out that adenosine, a type of brain substance that causes fatigue, can’t work as well with caffeine coursing through our veins. There’s also a potential positive link between coffee and our ability to process data.
- Whole grains: Whole grains can lead to both a healthier body and brain. These foods contain a lot of vitamin E, which could prevent Alzheimer’s and keep the brain’s cognition on track.
- Seeds and nuts: Lots of nuts and seeds are also jam-packed with vitamin E. Besides that, these foods have antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids for a better-functioning brain.
- Dark chocolate: Yes, that’s right, dark chocolate can be good for brain health! The cacao in this type of chocolate is rich in flavonoids. These antioxidants keep blood moving throughout the brain. It’s also believed that the brain gets more blood vessels and neurons with enough cacao flavonoids, specifically in brain areas involved in learning and memory.
- Oily fish: Oily fish such as sardines, herring, tuna, mackerel, and salmon have plenty of omega-3s. Through consuming these fatty acids, one may be able to enjoy improved cognition as the brain receives more blood.
Is Memory Loss A Sign Of Deteriorating Health?
The answer to this is “not necessarily”. It really depends on the amount of memory loss.
For example: having a tough time remembering where the keys to the car are once in a while is part of normal age-related memory loss. But if this happens on a regular basis and with other items as well – then it could be an indication of a decline in cognitive health that needs to be investigated.
I would recommend strongly to get your elderly loved one tested immediately.
Side note here – it’s very difficult to get power of attorney and other legal matters processed with someone who has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, so before you get to the doctor’s office for these tests – please make sure to have your legal paperwork in order.
NOTE: We are not physicians or medical professionals or nutritionists. The information in this article has been researched and it’s sources are mentioned. Senior Safety Advice assumes no responsibility or liability for the completeness, accuracy, or reliability of this information. Any action you take upon the information on this website is strictly at your own risk and we will not be liable for any losses, and damages in connection with the use of our website.