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Help Fill in the Gaps for Someone with Memory Loss

I know a young person, who I’ll call Lucy, whose grandmother had a stroke last year. Lucy’s grandmother has regained a lot of her mobility and speech but she is struggling with her memory.

Lucy proudly told me when she visits or video chats with her grandmother she always tests her on remembering her name and those of other family members. Lucy does this because she wants to see her grandmother improving.

I think this is a normal thing for a person to want to do. Lucy has been brought up being constantly quizzed and questioned to ensure she is learning and developing as she should. And as she is an intelligent young person she quite enjoys this and appreciates her own progress.

But a stroke victim’s brain doesn’t grow and develop like a healthy child’s brain. None of our adult brains work like a healthy child’s brain, children’s brains are just incredible. But I’m sure if we could see the workings of a damaged or dementia brain we would be equally amazed at how hard it tries to resolve and work around its problems – exhausting. So we need to stimulate these brains but let’s not over tax them.

None of us would enjoy a conversation where our weaknesses or deficiencies are focused on, it would feel like a really bad job interview!

People with memory issues don’t need to be reminded or quizzed on what they don’t remember. It would be much more beneficial and confidence building to have those gaps filled in. Then the conversation can move forward and focus on what the person can do and has achieved.

If you are visiting or calling someone with a memory issue you may be curious to know how much they remember. Be aware that direct questions may be stressful and feel like a test. A more relaxed approach is more likely to result in a better conversation in the long run.

  • Introduce people who visit, e.g. “Graham from the golf club has come to visit you.”
  • If you have to introduce yourself, keep it light, describe a setting well known from the past that may help them place you. Remember they are not doing this on purpose.
  • In conversation keep information simple, and repeat it frequently.
  • You may have to repeat things several times. Be patient and avoid telling them that you have already given them the information before.
  • When repeating information, try giving it in a slightly different way each time. This keeps it a little more interesting for you and lessens the chance of you sounding bored or frustrated.
  • Try to enhance what is to be remembered by using photos or pictures, gestures and notes
  • When asking for information give cues and context rather than general questions. e.g. ask, ‘Have you been for a walk this morning?’ instead of, ‘What have you been up to today?’
  • It is better to redirect rather than correct a person who has memories that are out of date. If the person wants to see someone who is no longer alive, or go back to a home they no longer live in, you can redirect by getting them to talk about the person or by asking about their home. Updating them again about their reality may just cause unnecessary upset.
  • A person may not always respond rationally. There is no use in arguing or reasoning if this is the case. Use short, straightforward sentences.
  • Redirection or distraction may help move a person on from inappropriate behaviour. Never tell the person off, lecture them or shame them for their actions.
  • Concentrate on having a happy peaceful time. Although a conversation may be soon forgotten, a good mood can stay with a person longer.
  • Your experience may be very different from visit to visit. Treasure the good visits.

Have a look at Mindjig’s listing here on Eldernet

About Julie Bourla

Julie Bourla
Julie Bourla is a co-owner of the online store, Mindjig.co.nz. Mindjig offers gifts and activities for people living with dementia or brain injury. Her husband, Jonathan, is an activities coordinator in a secure dementia unit. Together they have been developing engaging solutions geared particuarly towards New Zealanders, to help people living with cognitive challenges and also their carers/families. With Julie’s background in graphic design & illustration and Jonathan’s in photography, they use their skills to make meaningful products with many of the activities on the site being designed and produced themselves.

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