A Caregiver’s Guide to Understanding Memory Loss

**This guest blog was written and submitted by health and lifestyle writer Christian Worstell**

As a caregiver, you face many challenges in taking care of an older adult. And one of the most difficult is dealing with memory loss.

Some memory loss is to be expected as people age, such as misplacing car keys or other objects or forgetting a name or the day of the week. And while those miscues are often just brushed off as a “senior moment” by caregivers, the person affected by this reduced cognitive function may be experiencing higher stress, depression, and frustration as a result.

Below are some ways for caregivers to better recognize and understand memory loss along with some tips for how to help combat it.

Understanding Memory Loss

In normal memory loss, the area of the brain that creates and retrieves memories can deteriorate, making it more difficult to remember past events. Hormone production declines as people age, which affects repair and replacement of brain cells. Blood flow to the brain may also decrease, which can cause changes in memory and reasoning.

Other factors that affect memory include medications, alcohol, vitamin deficiencies or illness. Fortunately, memory loss from most of these causes is reversible.

But it is important to understand and distinguish between normal age-related memory loss and memory loss due to dementia. Memory loss from dementia can be more serious and disabling.

Dementia causes neurons in the brain to stop functioning properly. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that affects the areas of the brain that involve memory, behavior, language, and intelligence.

How to Help your Loved Ones Fight Age-Related Memory Loss

While there is no cure for dementia, there are a few things that caregivers can do to slow the effects of memory loss and help their loved one maintain a certain quality of life.

Implementing self-care can give your loved ones a sense of independence and an assurance that life can continue on despite the changes they may be experiencing. Here are a few tips you can help implement to help your loved one cope with the aging process:

1. Stay Active

Staying active is one of the best ways to stay healthy. Exercise stimulates the brain and keeps our mind sharp. Even mobility-impaired seniors can do simple exercises. As a caregiver, encourage your loved ones to aim for at least 75 minutes of brisk walking every week. Simple exercises like this increase blood flow to the brain and stimulate brain regions that produce chemicals which counter memory loss.

2. Maintain an Active Social Life

Social interaction helps lower stress, improves mood, and counters depression. Playing cards with friends, joining a gardening club, or having a meal with family members are simple ways seniors can keep up social interactions.

3. Eat a Healthy Diet

Establishing a healthy diet is good for overall health. Some health practitioners recommend a Mediterranean diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil, and fish. Others suggest eating a well-balanced diet high in omega-3 fats and antioxidants, including walnuts, fish, green tea and whole grains. Caregivers can help with planning meals that are nutritious and easy to prepare.

4. Get Plenty of Rest

Sleep plays a vital role in forming and retaining memories. Adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Not getting enough sleep reduces the production of new neurons in the brain which can affect decision-making, concentration, and memory. It can also cause depression, which affects memory and brain function. If getting to sleep is a problem for your loved one encourage them to avoid large meals, alcohol, and caffeine before bedtime, and try to implement a set time for them to go to bed each night.

5. Have an Organized Living Space

A tidy home makes it easier for seniors to keep track of their belongings. Keep a notebook or calendar for appointments, meetings and phone numbers. Put car keys, wallets, checkbooks and other frequently used objects in the same place each time after use.

The more educated about the effects of memory loss caregivers are, the better equipped they will be to provide support. If you or your loved one becomes concerned about memory lapses, consult your doctor. A doctor may refer the patient to a specialist for further testing and treatment, but caregivers should be prepared to act as the first line of defense against memory loss and dementia.