Only when you have witnessed the “amnesia-ing” of a dementia patient, do you become fully aware of how memory loss changes the personality and character of an individual. All that we are is entangled within a web of our yesterdays, thread upon thread, until one is indistinguishable from the other. Our memories are the filters through which we interpret everything that happens in our lives. They help define our character and our passions. Without them our minds are homeless, separated forever from our identity.
I have discovered that the more we engage the dementia sufferer with the world around them, the more likely they are to remain an active participant in the present. It is imperative that caregivers do not give up hope and work hard each day to build a bridge between themselves and our loved ones. Here are some suggestions for nurturing your loved one’s short-term memory.
Create and maintain a daily schedule. Healthy eating and sleeping habits are optimized when the patent is on a predetermined routine. The stress level of both the patient and the caregiver decreases when a scheduled is followed.
There are distinct times of the day when it is necessary for a patient to be grounded in the present. These include the daily activities of normal living, like bathing, eating, sleeping, and taking medications. Typically many of these activities take place in the morning, but remember that this is not cast in stone. Nan happens to be at her best in the morning so I schedule her doctors’ appointments and nurses’ visits for these hours. But if this is not the case for your loved one, be flexible. If they are more amiable after lunch, schedule their showers in the afternoon or at bedtime. Remember that you need to be the one to adjust and become attuned to their natural rhythms. Do not force them to follow some predetermined or arbitrary schedule or routine.
Hang a whiteboard in your loved one’s main living area. Write the current day of the week and date along with any activities that are scheduled for that day. Include a list of telephone numbers and emergency contacts. This is helpful if they are still able to use the telephone, but it also provides caregivers quick access to contact numbers in case of emergency.
Don’t allow your loved one to spend the entire day in one room. Remaining in one spot all day makes it difficult to detect the passage of time and increases the likelihood that they will sleep during daylight hours and be awake at night. In order to maintain healthy sleep habits, bedrooms should, if at all possible, be designated for napes and nighttime sleeping. Staying in one room all day can also create feelings of isolation. When disconnected from the outside world, the dementia patient is more likely to suffer from confusion and depression.
Encourage your loved one to interact with the world around them. Caregivers, visitors, and other patients are a wonderful source of companionship for the dementia patient. Again, the more they feel a part of the world around them, the more likely they are to remain in it. Yes, I know there are biological events occurring that are fighting against this, but I am a firm believer in the “use it or you lose it” philosophy. Engaging in relationships outside of their immediate family circle increases feelings of independence and helps rebuild confidence.
Keep your loved one informed about the world around them. Discuss positive current events within your family and the world. By asking their opinion on a variety of subjects, you force them to concentrate and communicate their beliefs. It also helps remind them that they are a part of something larger than themselves.
Remember to be positive. Offer praise and positive reinforcement when your loved one remembers an event, solves a problem, or recalls information that you have relayed to them. This will increase their confidence and help combat the fear that they are going crazy.