How To Interact with a Loved One with Memory Loss

If you’re a caregiver for a loved one suffering from memory loss, then you are far from alone in your caregiving journey. In fact, according to a 2018 article from WebMD, “1 in 9 Americans aged 45 and older say they are experiencing thinking declines.” Memory loss is a warning sign that should not be ignored; in many cases, though not all, it can lead to Alzheimer’s or dementia.


Here are some factors you might encounter when providing care for a loved one with memory loss:

Forgetting Events or Recent Conversations

If your loved one is having difficulty recalling past events or recent conversations, then he or she is experiencing difficulties storing & retrieving information. So what can you do? And what should you potentially avoid doing?

  • suggests refraining from reminding them that they’ve heard information before. It can trigger feelings of frustration and impatience and does not add any value to what you’re trying to accomplish.

  • Setting up a routine to reinforce regular daily occurrences can be beneficial for your loved one.

  • Consider encouraging journal writing or keeping a log of his or her daily routine; incorporating pictures and meaningful quotes can be helpful tools for recall.

  • Using cues and verbiage that will provide context rather than lead to vagueness or ambiguity can positively impact your loved one’s response. For example, instead of specifically asking: “What time was it when you last ate?” Use a question like: “Are you hungry?”

  • Employing the services of assistive technology devices or even a simple calendar can be useful for your loved one.

  • Lastly, remember how important it is to keep your own language simple and specific. Try focusing on one thing at a time; do your best to reduce noise in the environment and to eliminate distractions; be patient and repeat details as necessary.

Difficulty Finding the Right Word

It’s common for your loved one to struggle with finding the right word to complete a thought or sentence. Additionally, he or she may also have trouble understanding or recalling the meaning of a specific word; names of people; and names of objects. As a caregiver, what can you do to assist your loved one in the best manner possible?

  • Allow your loved one some time to retrieve the word or phrase on their own, but be aware of how much time has passed and provide assistance if the gap has the potential to lead to embarrassment or frustration.

  • Take the time to listen to the context around what your loved one is trying to say and see if you can offer helpful guidance from there so they can try to arrive at the word or phrase on their own.

  • As in the previous instance, do what you can to minimize background noise. Also, try not to rush the individual; give them an appropriate amount of time so they don’t feel stressed, overwhelmed or frustrated.

Additional memory loss tips:

  • Aim to provide tactful reminders and cues to help the person remember. Instead of, “look at this cute puppy.” Try being more specific without offending your loved one’s memory troubles and say something like: “here is your grandson Jack’s cute puppy, Max.”

  • Avoid putting your loved one on the spot; engage him or her during times of day when they’re at their best versus when they’re tired or emotionally charged.

  • Create a memory book or box that contains photos and other keepsakes that are familiar to your loved one.

  • Try to avoid crowded places and focus on creating a comfortable environment for your loved one with minimal stimulation so that he or she can focus.

  • Instead of asking what your loved one wants to eat, which could induce difficulties with word retrieval or making a decision, simply inform them that it’s now dinner time.

  • If your loved one asks about a friend or relative who has long since passed, or about going home when they now live in an assisted living facility, don’t remind them about the pain they endured or about their new surroundings. Instead, ask them to describe the person, the memories they’re reliving, and how home made them feel.

Are you a caregiver for a loved one living with memory loss? What kinds of tips and strategies have you found to be most helpful? What should be avoided?

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