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Helping Someone with Memory Loss

Diagnosing memory problems can be confusing. In older people, it's easy to mistake such problems for the everyday forgetfulness that some people experience as they grow older.

Memory problems, however, may be symptoms of a more serious diagnosis, such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia. 

One should be assessed by a doctor:

  • When the person is unable to remember familiar things or people

  • When the person is increasingly forgetful or has trouble remembering recent events

  • When the person has trouble doing familiar things, such as cooking

A medical exam will include a look at prescription and over-the-counter medications used, as well as diet, medical history, and overall health, according to the National Institute on Aging. A memory problem may be caused by a reaction to a drug, or it might be the result of depression, thyroid problems, dehydration, or a vitamin deficiency.

If you're caring for someone with memory problems, the following recommendations can help you help the person retain his or her confidence, independence, and dignity for as long as possible:

  • Be flexible and patient and encourage the person to remember what he or she can.

  • Make it easier for the person to remember new information. To do so, keep new information simple and repeat it frequently. Break down new activities into small steps.

  • Provide verbal cues rather than ask questions. For example, say: "This is Jane, your cousin, who has come to see you." Don't ask: "This is Jane. Do you remember who she is?"

  • Establish a regular routine. A regular routine will help the person feel more secure and make it easier for him or her to remember what usually happens during the day. Too much variety and stimulation can be confusing.

  • Learn what to expect. For example, managing irritation may be easier if you understand your husband can't remember how to unload the dishwasher because of his disease, not because he doesn't want to be helpful.

  • Seek help from family and friends.