As your parents age, it’s not uncommon for them to experience forgetfulness, like momentarily misplacing keys or having trouble remembering the date of their next hair appointment. However, some older adults might experience a more severe type of memory loss, which is not a normal part of aging. In fact, nearly 10 to 20 percent of older adults aged 65 and older have been diagnosed with some kind of mild cognitive impairment, while 10 percent are diagnosed with long-term memory loss, such as Alzheimer’s. While experiencing longer memory recall can be a normal part of aging, those who suffer from long-term memory loss often lose the ability to recall memories completely.
Signs and Symptoms of Long-Term Memory Loss
The most obvious warning sign of long-term memory loss is when a senior is unable to recall memories from childhood or early adult years. For example, if your loved one is unable to remember where they grew up or the name of their high school or college, it’s important to tell a healthcare provider as soon as you’re able. In addition, here are a few common signs of long-term memory loss to look out for:
• Mixing up words or experiencing difficulty in word recall or describing situations.
• Getting confused or disoriented in highly frequented and familiar places, such as the grocery store or a relative’s house.
• Taking a much longer time to complete basic daily tasks like bathing, cooking, or paying the bills.
• Drastic and sudden changes in behavior and mood. This can often look like agitation, anger, and irritability.
What to Expect After a Long-Term Memory Loss Diagnosis
It’s difficult to watch our parents age, especially when they’ve been diagnosed with a cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s. However, it can help reduce stress and agitation when we know what we can expect and how to better care for our parents and ourselves. Here are a few challenges you might face as your parent experiences memory loss.
Daily Challenges– As long-term memory loss progresses, completing daily tasks can become more difficult. This means eating, dressing, and grooming on their own might become challenging and eventually, they might require assistance. If your parent drives, it’s important to monitor their cognitive decline with their doctor and find the right time to discuss other means of getting around.
Safety Risks– Many adults who experience long-term memory loss will also become wander risks. It’s important to make sure support systems, like regular calls and check-ins, are put in place just in case this happens to your parent. In addition, some home appliances can also become dangerous. Forgetting to turn kitchen appliances off, forgetting how to use utensils, or losing balance are not uncommon challenges.
Changes in Communication– As speech delays and word recall worsen, communicating with your parent might become difficult. You might notice your parent struggling to recall vocabulary, repeating himself or herself often, using illogical sentences, or speaking less frequently.
Emotional Challenges– Many older adults are aware of their cognitive decline, especially at the beginning of diagnosis. This can come with a lot of shame and embarrassment, especially when they have to be reminded of certain memories, words, or facts.
How to Care for a Parent with Long-Term Memory Loss
Witnessing a parent suffer from long-term memory loss can be difficult for the whole family, especially for adult children. Knowing how to care for your parent might become a new challenge after a long-term memory loss diagnosis. Here are some things to consider as you decide what kind of care will be the most helpful for your parent.
Memory care communities
As the disease progresses, your parent might ultimately benefit from 24-hour, long-term care. Memory care communities are designed to provide support and care for older adults suffering from memory-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Memory care is often available as a separate unit in continuing care retirement communities, like Maplewood.
Establishing a new routine
Your parent’s daily life will change as their cognitive function continues to decline. It’s important to establish a regular routine to help decrease confusion and disorientation, while also avoiding too much stimulation and variety. This might mean choosing one or two regular activities for each day, such as crafting or a walk.
Ask for help
Caring for a parent with long-term memory loss can seem like a daunting task. However, it’s important to take inventory of your resources and use them when necessary. Ask for help, consider hiring a caretaker, or see what resources are available in your community.
Coping with Loss of a Parent or Loved One
Many adult children of parents suffering from long-term memory loss experience grief even before the death of their parent. As the disease progresses, it’s normal for adult children to grieve the loss of the parent they knew for their entire lives. Many family members have to learn how to relate to and communicate with their loved one in new ways. Here are a few tips to consider as you continue to nurture a new relationship with your parent.
• Go with the flow– Long-term memory loss can often affect a person’s mood, making each day slightly unpredictable. It’s important to let go of plans and expectations and simply go with the flow. Know that just because you’ve made plans, it might not go exactly how you imagined.
• Set boundaries– Long-term memory loss can affect an entire family, not just the person with the diagnosis. If you are a family member or an adult child, it’s important to take care of yourself by setting boundaries. For example, if your parent becomes agitated during your visit, it’s okay to leave and reschedule for a different time.
• Rethink your responses– As the disease progresses, you might be tempted to encourage your parent to remember something from their past. Or, you might feel upset if they can’t remember your name or who you are. In these moments, it’s best to take a breath and think about how you want to respond, even when in difficult situations.
Finding Support with Long-Term Memory Loss at Maplewood Senior Living
At Maplewood Senior Living, we know how difficult coping with the loss of a parent from long-term memory loss can be. That’s why our communities offer high-quality memory care specifically designed to support both the resident and their family members. If you’re interested in learning more about our memory care offerings, please contact us. We’d be happy to give you a tour of our community and discuss your needs.