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How To Help Elderly Parent With Memory Loss

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Seniors living with memory problems

Memory problems can come on due to an illness, a disease or sometimes just a 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 adults and their caregivers can do to make their lives easier and safer.

5 Ways You Can Help Your Elderly Parents Who Suffer From Memory Loss

  1. Do not correct (if possible) or highlight their memory loss.
  2. Keep to a schedule, a structure of how and when activities are done.
  3. Use post it notes and signs throughout the house.
  4. Add technology like Alexa and Google Home to remind them of tasks to be done.
  5. Incorporate memory sharp foods into the diet

My sweet mother-in-law just turned 98 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 98th 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.

No matter how healthy she is, it’s very difficult to escape problems with memory issues as she ages. Of course, severe memory issues 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 your senior loved one is demonstrating the kind of memory problems that are affecting his/her daily life or presenting a safety hazard, I urge you to seek the services of an Occupational Therapist or the senior’s doctor to help with some memory therapy.

You never know, the problems may be from side effects due to medication they are taking or even dehydration so you want to have that looked into.

No matter if they live at 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 someone with memory problems depends on the severity of the problem.

  • If they have been diagnosed with Dementia or Alzheimer’s, then it’s likely not a good idea to try to correct them.
  • If it’s very slight 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. As you can probably imagine, 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. My poor patients became frightened, anxious and even more confused. Thankfully, that only lasted my first year as an OT – then 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.

At the end of the day, it serves no purpose to continuously try to correct someone with any form of slight or severe dementia. 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 recommend to ask 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 support groups in your area or even online – speaking to other caregivers who are dealing with these same issues can be a great help.

2. 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.

3. 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.

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 or Home Care services.

4. 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!

How To Set Up Reminders in Alexa

How To Set Up Reminders in Google Home

5. 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:

  • Mulberries
  • Blackcurrants
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Strawberries
  • 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.

Source: MedicalNewsToday

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.

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