Coping with Memory Loss

Progressive memory loss due to diseases like Dementia can be difficult to cope with for both someone living with the disease and their carer. With over 40% of people over the age of 65 experiencing memory loss [1], they can often need help when it comes to support and guidance.  

Here are the topics covered in this article:

  • What are the causes of memory loss? We have listed the most common known factors that can cause memory loss.
  • Can memory loss be prevented? With the fear of memory loss at an all-time high the prevention of memory loss is widely talked about in the healthcare industry.
  • Mild Cognitive Impairment. Although someone may be experiencing difficulties with memory loss it may not be server enough to be considered dementia – instead it may be Mild Cognitive Impairment.
  • Memory Loss and Dementia. Dementia is often confused with Alzheimer’s, however, it is an umbrella term used to describe the symptoms that occur when the brain is affected by certain diseases – including memory loss.
  • Ten Signs of Memory Loss. There are ten early warning signs to look out for if you think that you – or someone close to you – could be suffering from Dementia.
  • Coping with Memory Loss. There are lots of different approaches to coping with memory loss, including the following things you can do to help aid your day-to-day life.
  • Supporting someone with Memory Loss. It can be hard for someone with living with memory loss to look after themselves so we’ve listed ways in which you can help support them mentally and physically.

What are the Causes of Memory Loss?

Many of the causes of memory loss are treatable if they are diagnosed early, however, if they are not diagnosed they may progress and make treatment more difficult [2]. Research shows that there are many known factors that can cause memory loss, including the following:

  • Severe sleep deprivation
  • Experiencing emotional trauma
  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Excessive use of alcohol and drugs, including smoking
  • Some prescription medication including antidepressants and sleeping pills
  • Mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia
  • Anaesthesia from recent surgery
  • Parkinson’s
  • Suffering from a head injury or concussion
  • Thyroid problems
  • Migraines
  • Having electroconvulsive therapy
  • Going through brain or heart bypass surgery
  • A nutritional deficiency
  • A physical illness, such as a chest or urine infection
  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol

Can Memory Loss be Prevented?

The fear of memory loss is something that stops many people going to the doctors for a diagnosis, with 56% of people putting off seeking a dementia diagnosis [8]. With the fear of getting dementia at an all time high one of the most talked about topics in memory loss studies is ‘can memory loss be prevented?’.

Some of the causes of memory loss that are listed above are definitely treatable, but are they preventable?

Studies show that memory loss can be prevented if you follow a couple of simple rules from a young age, to help keep your brain active and sharp.

A couple of the recommended ways to help improve your memory include going on regular walks, maintaining a healthy diet, engaging in activities that test your brain, staying social, getting a better night’s sleep, avoiding smoking and other forms of nicotine, dedicating time to relax, attending regular check-ups and using memory tests [3]. These recommendations will not prevent memory loss alone, particularly if it is age-related, however they will help improve the way in which the brain works.

Mild Cognitive Impairment

Sometimes people may notice that they are experiencing problems with their memory, however, these difficulties may not significantly affect the person’s everyday life and may not be severe enough to be considered Dementia – this is called Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).  

It is estimated that between 5-20% of people aged over 65 are living with MCI, and 10 out of every 100 will go on to develop Dementia each year [4].

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Memory Loss and Dementia

Dementia is an umbrella term and describes the symptoms that occur when the brain is affected by certain diseases or conditions. There are many different types of dementia, however some are more common than others, including Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, Frontotemporal dementia and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, named after the doctor Alois Alzheimer, who first described it as a progressive physical disease that affects the brain.

Memory loss is considered one of the first signs of Dementia and in particular, Alzheimer’s disease. In the early stages of the disease, it may be easy to mistake memory loss or lapses in judgement for the normal forgetfulness of old age, however, it will soon become apparent that the problems are becoming more severe and persistent; this is often more apparent to family and friends than to the person themselves.  

Although someone may be living with memory loss, they may be able to retain certain skills for much longer. This means that they might remember a surprising range of facts or experiences, especially memories from earlier on in their life. This is because a person’s emotional memory is affected much later on in Dementia and they will still be able to remember how they felt at a particular moment in time, even if they can’t remember the specific details about it.

The extent of memory loss for someone living with the Dementia  may result in difficulties carrying out day-to-day activities, as it is often caused due to damage to the hippocampus, a part of the brain that plays a very important role in day-to-day memory [5].

Ten Signs of Memory Loss

If you think you – or someone close to you – may be experiencing symptoms of memory loss and think there is a possibility it could be Dementia rather than MCI, there are 10 early warning signs and symptoms you can look out for [6].

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life such as loss of direction

The most common sign of Dementia is memory loss, particularly when it comes to remembering newly learned information or conversations. This could mean that people lose their sense of direction and may not know where they are. Other things that may be forgotten include faces, dates, events, names, appointments, where things are stored and when to take medication.

  1. Challenges in planning or solving problems

Some people may notice changes in their ability to develop or follow plans, especially if it means working with numbers. This could mean they have difficulty remembering and following a favourite recipe or keeping track of monthly bills.

  1. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or in leisure

Another key early warning sign for Dementia is that people often find it hard to complete daily tasks. This could include driving to a familiar location, remembering the rules to a game or managing a budget at work.

  1. Confusion with time or place

People living with Dementia can often lose track of dates, seasons and the concept of time. This could mean they have difficulty understanding daily tasks and may forget where they are or how they got there.

  1. Trouble understanding visual images, spatial relationships and difficulty balancing

Vision problems are a key sign of memory loss. People may have difficulty remembering how to read, determining colour and contrast and judging distance – which may cause problems when driving. They may lose their balance and other key motor skills, meaning they have the propensity to fall over more often and may require safe patient lifting aids such as the Mangar Camel.

  1. New problems with words in speaking or writing

Having trouble joining in with conversations is a major warning sign when it comes to memory loss. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and forget how to continue, possibly repeating themselves as they try.

  1. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps

Someone with Dementia may put things in unusual places and forget where they are, unable to retrace their steps to find them again.

  1. Decreased or poor judgment

Another early warning sign could be people experiencing changes in judgement and decision-making. For example, they could use poor judgement when dealing with money and could end up giving large amounts to sales people or canvassers.

  1. Withdrawal from work or social activities

A person living with dementia may want to remove themselves from their usual hobbies, social events or work projects. They may experience trouble keeping up with their favourite sports team or avoid being social because of the changes they are experiencing.

  1. Changes in mood and personality

The personality of someone dealing with memory loss can change dramatically. They may become confused, fearful, depressed or anxious. The changes they experience could easily upset them while they are at home, work, with friends or in places where they are not familiar with their surroundings.

coping with memory loss

Coping with Memory Loss

There are lots of different approaches to coping with memory loss and the feelings it can cause, such as frustration and a loss of confidence and self-esteem. Some of the techniques may require professional input from Occupational Therapists or Psychologists, however, there are lots of different things you can do to help aid your day-to-day life [7].

  • Give yourself plenty of time and keep calm when carrying out tasks you feel are difficult.
  • Stick to a routine where possible. Keep everyday items such as your keys and wallet in the same place and try to do tasks in the same order.
  • Write any important information down and keep a pen and paper in key areas, such as next to the telephone.
  • Take a shopping list with you when you go shopping and cross things off as you put them in your shopping trolley. Do the same thing at home and keep a list of things you run out of.
  • Give or throw away odds and ends that are no longer in use.
  • If you have trouble remembering to take items with you when you leave the house, write a big reminder note and stick it on the inside of your front door.
  • Use a day-to-day calendar and cross off a day every time you go to bed, that way you will know what day is when you wake up.
  • Keep a diary at home to remind you to do certain things. This could double up as a journal where you can look back and remember what you have done.
  • Programme any important phone numbers into your phone so you only have to press one button to dial.
  • Use sticky notes to remind you when to do certain things, for example, when to take a book back to the library. Once you have completed the task throw the sticky note away so you don’t repeat it.
  • Keep items that are alike in one place, for example, keep all of your keys on just one keyring.
  • Try to focus on doing just one thing at a time, then repeat and give yourself time to learn it. If it helps, break tasks down into smaller steps.
  • Talk to friends and family about how you feel and what you can do to work together.
  • Use an alarm to help you to remember to do something at a particular time, such as taking something out of the oven, taking medication or making a phone call. Write down your reason for setting the alarm on a piece of paper nearby, so you don’t forget.
  • Repeat important information back to someone if you need to remember it. This will increase your chances of remembering and check that you have heard it correctly.
  • Try picturing yourself doing certain tasks if you can’t remember how to do them. For example, if you need to remember a recipe try picturing yourself making it and what ingredients you would use.
  • Ensure you have looked into the correct equipment needed to support someone living with dementia, this could be small assistive technologies that help with household tasks, aids that help with washing and bathing, aids that help with walking and moving and adaptations to the home.

Supporting Someone With Memory Loss

At times it will be hard for someone with Alzheimer’s to look after themselves, which is where you come in. You can help support them both emotionally and physically at home in some of the following ways:

  • Talk about how they are feeling and offer them reassurance.
  • Reinforce approaches and strategies that they are trying.
  • Remember that the memory loss is not their fault.
  • Don’t test them by saying things like ‘do you remember who this is?’.
  • Be sensitive and supportive if they need you to repeat any information they may have already told you.
  • If you are worried about the person getting lost, consider ways to support them so that they can go out.
  • Make sure there are familiar items in their home, for example, ornaments and family photographs.
  • Use a notice board to display appointment cards. This should be where they will clearly see it.

If you notice any of the 10 warning signs in either yourself or someone you know it is advised that you schedule an appointment with your doctor so they can assess your needs. If you need additional support or information on coping with memory loss the NHS has a range of useful documents and contacts.

To find out how Mangar can help please contact us

[1] http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/memory-loss/Pages/Introduction.aspx

[2] http://www.healthline.com/symptom/memory-loss

[3] http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/features/9-brain-boosters-to-prevent-memory-loss?page=2

[4] http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/problemsdisorders/dementiaandmemoryproblems.aspx

[5] https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=123

[6] http://www.alz.org/10-signs-symptoms-alzheimers-dementia.asp

[7] http://www.brainandspine.org.uk/memory-problems-and-tips-how-cope-them

[8] https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/news_article.php?newsID=2606



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