Managing Memory Matters
Experiencing challenges with memory and recall is often one of the first symptoms that people living with dementia might start to notice. This can be understandably distressing to both those living with dementia and their families. Memory issues is something that will occur with all types of dementia, although the severity and timing of it are dependent upon the individual journey.
Memory difficulties will often present in different ways for different people. They might appear as:
Not being able to create a new memory, where recent events are not captured and recorded by the brain. For example, immediately forgetting a conversation, or being unable to wok out change in a supermarket.
Finding it takes longer to remember something, although you are able to ultimately recall the information. This might mean needing some extra time to find the right word.
Not being able to recall information- even though new memories can be created, they can’t be accessed when required. Things like names and even familiar places can become harder to retrieve.
How does Memory work?
Our brains capture our experiences by converting snippets of lived moments into short-term memories, which become long-term memories over time- embedded in our subconscious through repetition. An example of this is driving a car. We’re all new at it to start with but after years of repetition, it becomes second nature. These longer-term memories, as well as events that generate a significant emotional response (such as a wedding or a birth) are deeply engrained in our psyches and are therefore more easily recalled. Less emotionally charged experiences, or more recent events, can become harder to immediately recall for people living with dementia.
Strategies for tackling Memory problems
As with all trickier tasks we face in life, combatting them when we’re tired, distracted, rushed or flustered, is never a good idea. The same applies when we’re talking about memory challenges. There are a number of strategies available to help when recall and memory start to become more problematic.
Set the scene- plan what needs to be done and break down tricky tasks into smaller chunks. Remove distractions, reduce noise and clutter and crucially pick the right time!
Organisation and routine- having a familiar pattern you stick to each day will help. You could try writing this down on a daily planner too. Our brains convert frequently repeated routines to long term memory faster, meaning they’re easier to hold on to. Try labelling drawers and cupboards and keeping all your things in the same place- for example, keys, phone and wallet all go in a bowl in the hallway when you come in from outside.
Asking for support- Accepting any change to life that is driven by a dementia diagnosis can feel emotional and frustrating.
Be kind to yourself as you navigate this new path. Asking friends and family to support you will also help. Our Wayfinding Team are just a phone call away and are here to talk about new coping strategies, or to just listen as you unload.
Using your senses- Our memories are made up of sensory experiences. A recent holiday might conjure up a smell of the heat, a memory of a song, even a taste of a certain food. Using triggers to help stimulate the senses can help with recall. For example, a familiar perfume, a piece of music, or touching a certain type of fabric.
Each person’s experience of living with memory loss will be unique. Ultimately, as with most stages of the dementia journey, there will be adaptations that need to be made, yet it is possible to live positively alongside memory difficulties. Finding tricks that help you through, like post it notes, smartphone reminders, medication blister packs, as well as the tips mentioned previously, will all help towards continuing to live life well.
Of course, processing the implications of memory loss and your own feelings about it (whether you’re experiencing it, or caring for someone who is) will take time. Reach out to our Wayfinding Team to discover how talking about your own experience might help.
Our Wayfinding Team are here to help but adjusting and educating ourselves is, for some, the first step on the journey. Offering free advice and guidance for your whole dementia journey, even from before you have a formal diagnosis.
The Wayfinders can also support you to access other services we work with to provide holistic, person-centred support. If you have concerns about your loved one's memory, you can contact our Wayfinders on 01243 888691. They can support you and your loved ones for your whole journey with dementia, from pre-diagnosis to end of life care.