When we begin to see memory loss in ourselves or our loved ones it can be a frightening prospect. What exactly does it mean? What is the cause? How do we prepare ourselves to cope with it? There are many questions that arise. It is important to highlight certain aspects of the memory loss as we begin to come up with strategies regarding how to cope with it.
People react differently when they experience memory loss. Suddenly you forget where your car is parked. Maybe you notice your checkbook has entries that don’t make sense. Sometimes people will try to cover up these lapses as if they didn’t exist. Other times people will minimize them and just say something like this happens to everybody. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging that your memory is not what it used to be. That happens to many of us for a variety of reasons. An important first step is deciding what you are going to do about it.
You can start with trying to pinpoint the nature of the loss. Included among the things that can cause memory loss are lack of sleep, nutritional deficiencies, stress, mild head trauma, alcohol and drug abuse, incorrect medication use, strokes, or a brain tumor. Theses are all conditions that can be treated with an end result of memory improving. Research shows that the aging process itself impacts the part of the brain that sorts through information. Old information is more deeply ingrained and may be easier to access than new information. For example, people that are fluent in a foreign language may not have any problems speaking it but may have difficulty remembering what they had for dinner last night.
Conditions like dementia are by definition degenerative. There will be continued loss of function. The rate of loss will vary with individuals. Here are ways you can assess the severity when you begin to notice loss of memory function and some strategies on adapting:
- Try to identify the activities that have become harder. For example, are you having trouble remembering to take your medication. Get someone to help you create a system to dispense and chart your medication consumption. Are tasks you do regularly at work suddenly becoming confusing or more challenging? Is there someone at work that can supervise and guide you? Can you get more time to complete a work assignment so you aren’t stressed by deadlines? Don’t be afraid to ask for help from colleagues, friends, family, or healthcare professionals.
- Identify how often it is happening and the severity of the memory loss. Do you forget the name of an acquaintance or an important client you have worked with for many years? You may need to give yourself written reminders regarding people’s names especially if you know you have a meeting scheduled with someone. Another trick is to have a photograph of the person with their name written down so you have more visual cues to trigger your memory.
- Make a list of what you need to get done. Be realistic about what you can do in a day. Limit yourself to one task at a time. Also try to limit the number of distractions around you. If you are doing something that requires concentration turn off the television, your cell phone, and music. Give yourself an environment that enhances your ability to focus rather than diminishes it. Allow plenty of time to complete something. If it becomes too frustrating it is OK to take a break. Allow yourself time to reduce your frustration and recharge your mind. Most of the time you will have more than one chance to do a task or approach a problem.
- Complete assignments or tasks in the same way, using the same process, and the same sequence of steps. It helps to familiarize yourself with regular tasks to have a series of repetitive steps you can repeat from day to day.
If you or a loved one notice that the severity of your memory loss is becoming more consistent and more frequent it is time to consult a physician. A doctor can do a more comprehensive assessment to determine the root cause of these issues. Be prepared with answers to some of the following questions that will come up at your appointment:
- How long have you been experiencing these problems and what is the frequency?
- Bring information on all medications including names an dosage.
- How is the memory loss manifested itself ? What things were you doing and how often do you do them?
- What things have you done to compensate for the memory loss and how effective have these strategies been?
- What is your daily routine and have you implemented any changes?
- What is your drug and alcohol use and have there been any changes in this routine?
- Have you had any recent falls or head injuries?
- Are there any new big changes or stressors in your life?
As I said at the beginning memory loss can be scary. Do what you need to accurately assess
the type and severity of the problem for yourself and someone you care about. You don’t have to face it alone. There are people that can help you create strategies and support mechanisms to help you face these hurdles.