Elderly burying her hand over her face

Challenges of Helping a Parent Through Memory Loss

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You look at your beloved parent, and you feel that they are slipping away from you. There is nothing more challenging than navigating them through memory loss. Yes, your mom or dad is still here, older and frail, but their mind seems to go away little by little. It’s hard to even recall when it all first started, right? We all forget things from time to time, but when do we really know that they are losing their memory? Was it when they forgot their pet’s name? Or a conversation you had just had with you a minute ago?

Memory loss is a terrible thing to experience in a loved one. Suddenly you find yourself overwhelmed by the anticipation of what’s to come. And what is to come? How can we really know what to expect if we’ve never been through this before? Here’s a self-test the doctor taught me to do with my mom from time to time.

How to do a Self-Test for Memory Loss

  • Have your loved one count to 20 forwards and backward
  • Have your loved one say the days of the week, Sunday through Saturday in order then backward
  • Have your loved one name only the weekdays in order then backward
  • Have your loved one name the months of the year
  • Ask your loved one how many months in a year
  • Ask your loved one how many days in a year

We most commonly associate the early stages of memory loss with dementia. Medical practitioners use the word “dementia” as an umbrella term used to describe a set of memory loss symptoms; impairment in memory, reasoning, judgment, language, and other thinking skills. Dementia usually begins slowly, worsens over time, and impairs a person’s abilities in work, social interactions, and relationships. Here’s a checklist to help you look for early signs of dementia.

Early Signs of Dementia

  • Asking the same questions over and over again
  • Often forgetting common words when speaking
  • Mixing thoughts up – asking for a “fork” when they meant “spoon”
  • Taking longer than usual to finish a common task like following a recipe
  • Putting items in inappropriate places – putting a hairbrush in the kitchen drawer
  • Getting lost in a familiar area while walking and driving
  • Change in mood or behavior for no apparent reason

Once you start noticing these early signs of memory loss, it may be a good indication that it’s time to check in with a doctor. There are tests that can be done to determine the degree of memory loss and further diagnose the cause. This will give you peace of mind in knowing what to expect in the stage you are at and help prepare you for what is to come. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and advocate for yourself and your loved one.

5 Tips to Help You Navigate Memory Loss

Caring for a parent suffering from memory loss – either as a result of aging or due to Alzheimer’s – is a huge challenge for anyone. You are now in the position of parenting both your children and your aging parent. This reversal of roles can be confusing and cause you emotional pain.

However, there are ways in which you can maintain your own inner balance while doing the best for your parent.

1. Create a Routine for Your Parent

When you were a baby, your parents would set a routine for you: feeding time, bath time, napping hours, etc. These helped you stop being confused about the new world you entered. Aging parents with memory loss need the same solid, dependable structure.

Set aside clear times for meals, watching TV, going for a walk, and so on. Even though their memory is slowly slipping away, the constant routine of daily activities will help their parent stay grounded in reality.

2. Reinforce Memories by Giving Meaningful Details

When you try to jog your parent’s memory, do not create a challenge for them. For instance, instead of showing them a family photo and asking who is in it and on what occasion it was taken, start telling them the story of that day.

Remind them of a funny incident (like you tripping over a chair and landing straight on top of your birthday cake) and point to each person and say their name and how they are related to you.

3. Look for Any Helpful Resources You Can Access

You are not alone in caring for your parent through memory loss. Your local Area Agency on Aging can provide respite by arranging medical appointments, transportation, cleaning their house, and other similar services. Also, the US Department of Veterans Affairs has funding available for help with in-home or assisted living expenses.

Also, take the time to learn more about your parent’s condition by looking over the helpful resources provided by the National Institute on Aging for caregivers.

4. Prepare to Handle Your Parent’s Denial with Gentleness

At one point, you will have to discuss memory loss with your parent. You may have to persuade them to set up an enduring power of attorney that gives you the right to make financial and medical decisions for them when they cannot do that anymore.

You will be faced with anger and denial. Do not become confrontational. Understand your parent’s attitude. From their point of view, they are doing just fine, and you are trying to take control of their lives. Be patient and kind. They did the same for you when you were very young and dependent on them.

5. Find Out How Much Assistance Your Parent May Need in the Future

You may be able to juggle all the balls now, but it may not be so in the future. A parent with memory loss, growing frailer by the day, will require increasing assistance. As soon as you can, get an appointment with your parent’s primary physician and ask them for an honest prognosis.

At the same time, start looking into assisted living facilities, like Courtyard Gardens Senior Living. These are places where your parent will be cared for, encouraged to stay active, and have their mind stimulated with simple and entertaining activities.

Caring for a parent through memory loss is a strenuous journey, but you don’t have to do it on your own. In the end, remember that you are doing your best, and you are doing it out of love and concern. Don’t be hard on yourself and always remember to give yourself grace.

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