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10 Methods to Caring for Someone with Memory Loss (Dementia & Alzheimer’s)

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A smiling female staff member gently places her hands on a resident's shoulders as his head is turned towards and he is smiling back

Caring for Someone with Memory Loss

Memory loss can be an emotional process for everyone involved. Sometimes it can be challenging to show how much we care while coping with everyday tasks. Finding a way forward may not always be easy, but we can give you a hand with some simple methods.

Our Memory Care program, New Directions at The Compass, offers support through respecting the dignity and safety of those coping with memory loss. We’re passionate about our program and want to share our experience to help with your journey through memory loss.

Whatever your retirement living lifestyle, there are options to support personal dignity and comfort. 

Here are 10 methods to help you and your loved one cope with memory loss caused by dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

1. Communicate with Respect

It can be challenging for caregivers and people with dementia to communicate. Often, a person in the late stages of Alzheimer’s or severe Alzheimer’s might have difficulty with verbal communication, which means relying on facial expressions, gestures, and other nonverbal communication.

During any stage of memory loss, patience is essential. Here are a few ideas if you’re struggling with communication:

  • Use yes or no questions. For example, “Should I turn on the TV?” or “Would you like some coffee?”
  • Speak clearly and slowly, especially for instructions.
  • Choose a space with limited distractions.

2. Make Plans Together

Whenever possible, make plans together and have honest conversations about options. You might encounter challenges, but including the person with dementia ensures respect. They can tell you what works best for them and areas where they have trouble.

Your plans should include:

  • Likes and dislikes (favorite food, daily activities, exercise, etc.)
  • A checklist of things they need to do, want to do, and how they like items or activities completed. You might not be able to accomplish everything exactly, but you’ll have a better idea of what makes them comfortable.

3. Create A Routine

There are many benefits to routine, including decreasing anxiety, supporting independence, and maintaining abilities.

Your schedule doesn’t need to be strict. Instead, it’s a guideline. Some daily activities are suitable for flexibility, like when you watch your favorite show or what time you go on a walk. 

Other tasks might need an exact time because there’s a time limit, or it feels more comfortable. For example: eating lunch at noon or calling a friend who lives in a different time zone.

4. Modify Activity

Instead of cutting out favorite activities and hobbies, modify them. Just like reducing strenuous physical activity to mild activity when you’re injured, you can modify any activity. For example, an hour-long walk alone might change to 30 minutes with family or neighbors.

5. Simplify Mealtime

People with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease often experience changes in eating habits, including appetite loss, difficulty chewing or swallowing, changing food preferences, and forgetting to eat or drink.

Simplify mealtime by:

  • Offering one food item at a time
  • Using plain table settings
  • Eating together
  • Serving finger foods

If remembering meals is a problem, you might break a meal into multiple parts. For example, for breakfast, you might offer toast first, fruit later, followed by juice, and then a hard-boiled egg, allowing some time to digest. Don’t rush them through a meal.

A mature smiling resident holds a small piece of bread in each hand as he looks down smiling at his lunch of soup and sandwich

6. Grooming Tips

Grooming can make us feel good. However, someone with memory loss might forget grooming habits or dislike having grooming habits forced on them. Therefore, choose their favorite grooming items, toiletries, and routine whenever possible. For example, if they had a preferred barber, visit the same barber.

Doing the tasks with them, rather than against them, can make the experience more comfortable. For example, try combing your hair and allow them to mirror the action. 

7. Medication Safety

It’s crucial for medication to be taken as directed by a medical professional, which is why you should take steps to simplify and organize medications. Keep clear records and make sure you understand the purpose of each medication, including potential interactions with everyday items, like sleeping pills or over-the-counter pain medication.

A labeled pillbox can help you keep track and stick to a routine for multiple daily or nightly medications.

8. Hygiene Help

Hygiene habits keep our bodies clean and healthy. Unfortunately, it can be tricky if someone with dementia doesn’t like someone clipping their nails. Sometimes it’s not about the activity but the person involved. You might try different people for different hygiene tasks and find a better response.

Mirroring behaviors can also encourage good hygiene habits, such as brushing your teeth and offering them a toothbrush.

9. Sleep Habits

Sleep disturbances are common with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Night wandering, difficulty staying asleep, confusion, and tiredness during the day are typical. However, if other factors are eliminated, such as sleep apnea or other medical conditions, consistent routine and regular physical activity are the best solutions.

Good quality sleep is vital for cognitive function, but you also need to sleep at night. So limit napping and avoid stimulants (including coffee) in the afternoon, to avoid days and nights getting reversed. 

10. Safe Space

Home is where the heart is, but it’s also where you feel safe. So it’s essential to create a space. 

Try to make their environment appropriate for their daily lives. For example, you should prioritize objects they can use themselves and allow easy access within their space.

Caregivers should remove hazards or breakable objects. However, suppose it’s an object they enjoy, such as a display piece or memorabilia. In that case, you can place it in a spot they can see but not necessarily interact with or disturb—for example, a vase on a high shelf or a locked display case.

Written by Arcadia Limerick Pointe

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