Client Education Recap: Caring for Memory-Impaired Elders

How do you deal with memory-impaired elders? Elder Care Coordinators Debra King and Pati Bedwell offered practical tips during the January 5, 2017 edition of the Learning Café for Caregiver Spouses.

Here’s a brief recap of their presentation.

We’ve all seen books and listened to speakers giving us advice on how to care for someone with memory issues. However, it's not always easy to walk away with advice that can really help deal with the day-to-day, hour-to-hour task of caring for a loved one without both becoming frustrated during the process. These real-life tips can help.

Repetition is frustrating.

It’s frustrating for you to repeat things and it can become frustrating for your loved one depending on how you deal with your frustration. So, to combat your frustration, accept that you will be repeating things. Keep your voice calm and keep your statements brief. The briefer the statement, the less you’ll have to repeat!

Don’t give too many options or choices.

An “either/or” choice is much simpler for someone with memory issues than a question with three or four possible answers. Also, use what you know about your loved one. If he or she always drinks iced tea at lunch, do you really need to present coffee as an option?

Reconsider the Little White Lie.

To lie or not to lie: that’s a BIG question for caregivers. If your loved one is waiting for the children to get home from school, is it helpful to say that the kids are grown and won’t be getting off the bus? From birth, we’re taught not to lie, especially to those we love, so it doesn’t sit well for most of us to not tell the truth. However, you’re a caregiver now and it's necessary to think about what’s best for your loved one. Imagine how unsettling it would be to hear that you’ve forgotten your kids' childhood! How much would that make you doubt what you think you know?

Adapt to them.

When you're interacting with people suffering from memory impairment, it's important to remember that they don’t have the ability to alter their thoughts. They're having a hard enough time keeping up with their own thoughts as they arise. You, the caregiver, the one with the normal brain, has to be the one to change.

Don't rely on logic.

Logic and rationalizing aren't useful when dealing with a person with impaired memory. In fact, logic can cause a lot of frustration. Explaining anything to a person with memory issues is nearly impossible. He or she doesn't have the ability to retain what you’re saying, no matter how logically it’s presented.

Don’t ask.

If it’s time to for an activity such as a bath or shower, don't pose it as a question. Anyone who’s done any caregiving knows the usual answer to most questions is no, so instead of saying "Are you ready for your bath?", say “It’s time for your bath.”

Use your actions along with your words.

If it’s time for a bath or dinner, take hold of your loved one's hand and gently lead the way. Also, when reaching out, reach with your palm up. Most people will respond by grasping your hand. Having your loved one make the contact allows him or her to assume control when in reality you are the one in the lead.

Communicate as an adult.

Remember, neither memory impairment nor a diagnosis of dementia means the person has diminished intelligence. Don’t talk to them like they are a child. Instead, try to remember to use good, basic communication skills. Make eye contact, maintain a calm voice and keep your words to a minimum to help facilitate maximum understanding. It's always helpful to repeat key ideas, especially when you are trying to accomplish a task.

Smile during your interactions.

It helps keep your loved one feel secure and offers reassurance that he or she (and you) are okay.

Try not to show your frustrations.

It will escalate the frustrations of the one you’re trying to help.

Use memory aids.

Pictures, calendars, and clocks can all be useful tools.

Remember to praise.

Help ease the frustrations by giving lots of positive reinforcement for effort and for tasks completed.

Don’t expect more than your loved one can do.

Just because your loved one was a master plumber doesn’t mean he can fix the leaky sink today. However, you can ask if he’s ever done it before and encourage him to talk about some of his experiences.

Try to maintain a routine.

Familiarity is a tremendous help and it allows your loved one keep up with expectations for the day.

Remember you are human.

Not everything will go smoothly every day, every time. When things don't go so well, try to give yourself a break. We all know that we have to be patient but being patient for hours on end and answering the same three questions over and over again is trying even for the most patient!~ 


If you received an invitation to this Learning Café, be on the lookout for an email containing a link that will allow you to watch a video of the entire presentation.

Mark your calendar for upcoming Learning Café sessions for Life Care Plan clients, including VA FAQs on March 16, Irrevocable Trusts on April 20, and our annual Shred Day and Client Appreciation Event on April 27. Watch for invitations by postcard and email. See the complete client education schedule on our EVENTS page.


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