Helping Someone with Memory Loss

Diagnosing memory problems can be puzzling. In older adults, it’s easy to mistake such problems as part of the everyday memory loss that some people experience as they grow older.

Memory problems, however, may be a sign of a more serious diagnosis, such as Alzheimer disease or dementia.

Check with a healthcare provider if your loved one is:

  • Unable to remember familiar things or people

  • More and more forgetful or has trouble remembering recent events

  • Having trouble doing familiar things, such as cooking

  • Getting disoriented driving or walking  in places that were formerly very familiar

Your loved one’s healthcare provider will do a medical exam. This will include a look at prescription and over-the-counter medicine used. It will also look at the person’s diet, medical history, and overall health. A complete physical exam will be done. If needed, brain imaging will be done. A memory problem may be caused by:

  • Drug reaction

  • Depression

  • Thyroid problem

  • Dehydration

  • Vitamin deficiency

  • Stroke

  • Metabolic disorders

  • Dementia

If you’re caring for someone with memory problems, these tips may help. You may be able to help the person keep his or her confidence, independence, and dignity for as long as possible.

  • Be flexible, patient, and help the person try to remember what he or she can.

  • Make it easier for the person to remember new information. For instance, keep new information simple and repeat it often. Break down new activities into small steps.

  • Provide verbal cues rather than ask questions. For example, say: “This is Jane, your cousin, who has come to see you.” Don’t say: “This is Jane. Do you remember who she is?”

  • Establish a regular routine. This will help the person feel more secure and make it easier for him or her to remember what usually happens during the day. Too much variety and stimulation can be confusing.

  • Writing down important pieces of information can be helpful.

  • Learn what to expect. For example, managing irritation may be easier if you understand your husband can’t remember how to unload the dishwasher because of his disease. It is not because he doesn’t want to be helpful.

  • Seek help from family and friends.