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7 Tips On How To Help Elderly Parents With Memory Loss

senior confused about how to create a sandwich

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 passed away at almost 102 years old. She was independent, lived alone, and did not use any in-home care services up to the time she was 100.

Although she had no other signs of declining health, she did have problems with her short term memory.

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.

1. Don’t 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.

This technique is called Therapeutic Fibbing and it’s very effective.

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.

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 will 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.

In these cases you need to do all you can to avoid an argument which can increase their agitation and 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 May Not Work

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 will only work if the memory loss is minor. If it’s severe, the senior parent is not able to remember the conversation and may also not be able to process what you are saying to them.

4. Keep To A Schedule

It’s very important to try to keep to a schedule. It’s even 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, however, they may be able to READ what they see but they will lose the ability to COMPREHEND and/or REMEMBER what they 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.

If you are concerned that the memory disorder is becoming a risk factor and living alone is no longer an option – I would recommend to consider an Assisted Living facility with a memory unit or Home Care services.

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!

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!

How To Set Up Reminders in Alexa

How To Set Up Reminders in Google Home

7. Create A Safe Environment

Simplifying living spaces can significantly reduce the risk of confusion and accidents, which are common concerns for individuals experiencing cognitive decline.

  • Declutter and Organize: Start by removing unnecessary furniture and clutter that can cause confusion or physical obstacles. Keeping walkways clear and open helps prevent falls and makes it easier for your loved one to move around their home. Organize everyday items in consistent, easy-to-remember places.
  • Labeling and Signage: Use large, clear labels and signs to indicate the contents of drawers, cabinets, and rooms. This can help your parent find what they’re looking for without frustration or confusion. For example, labeling drawers with words or pictures of their contents (e.g., “clothes”, “utensils”) and placing a photo outside their room or bathroom can aid in navigation.
  • Safety Measures: Implementing safety measures is critical in preventing accidents. This includes removing rugs or securing them with non-slip pads to prevent tripping, installing grab bars in strategic areas such as the shower, next to the toilet, and along hallways, and ensuring that the home is well-lit, with easy-to-use light switches. Nightlights in hallways, bedrooms, and bathrooms can also help prevent falls during nighttime.
  • Adapt Bathroom Facilities: The bathroom is a common place for falls, so in addition to installing grab bars, consider using a raised toilet seat, a bath seat, or a walk-in bathtub to make bathing safer and more accessible. Non-slip mats inside and outside the tub or shower are also essential.
  • Adjust for Mobility and Accessibility: If mobility becomes a concern, consider the layout of the home. You may need to rearrange furniture to accommodate a walker or wheelchair, ensuring that your loved one can move freely throughout their space. Accessibility can also mean replacing knobs with lever handles for easier opening of doors and cabinets.

I do want you to know that when introducing new products into the home of someone with memory problems, they may or may not remember or be able to use them.

I recommend you get an assessment from an Occupational Therapist to help you before you make the financial investment of any new safety devices in the home.

NOTE: We are not physicians or medical professionals or nutritionists. The information in this article has been researched and it’s sources are mentioned. Speak with your physician for your specific medical issues.

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