Aug 18, 2017

The Remarkable Memories of Deeply Forgetful Dementia Patients

Alzheimer's caregivers often confuse the difference between short term memory loss and memories.

Caregivers often underestimate the memories of patients living with dementia.

Dementia patients lose their ability to remember new information and experiences. This happens because they can no longer store new memories in their brain.

On the other hand, dementia patients remain full of memories. These memories were stored in their brain long before the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

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A simple example. My mother was already in the moderate to severe stages of dementia. One night while we were sitting at the kitchen table I asked, mom do you remember where you went to first grade school? Without hesitation she answered - Saint Monica's. That would make it 1922, about 86 years before we were having this conversation.

During the same conversation and with her empty plate sitting right in front of her she asked, are we ever going to eat today? She had just finished eating dinner (breakfast, lunch, dinner and 2 snakes that day) and she could not remember that she had just eaten.

A good example of short term memory loss versus memories already stored in the brain.

One of the best things I ever did was decide to model part of our daily routine after what I knew my mother did every day before Alzheimer's.

I knew my mother did the same thing every morning when she woke up. She would make coffee, open the front door, grab the newspaper and start reading it.

So when she forgot how to get the newspaper, I did it for her. In fact I would organize the paper for her.

Front page on top, next section opened to the recipes, next section opened to the crossword puzzle and comics.

I would ask mom, what day is it? Most times she could look at the top of newspaper and get it. If not, I would point and she would read the day and date to me - including the year.

I would ask her to read something from the front page to me.

If there was a story about a dog or an alligator she would read it to me. If there was a story about the bad economy or unemployment she would read it to me. She always read those stories to me. And then she would say, Bobby how are people going to feed their families. 

My mom lived through the great depression, a world war, and a couple of really bad recessions. Mom had to worry about feeding her kids. She knew how difficult that could be, and she didn't forget it.

After the front page, I would pick off the top section and discuss the recipes with mom. Eventually we would decide on a recipe we like and I would ask her to read me the ingredients. Often a long list. She could do it.

How to Get Answers To Your Questions About Alzheimer's and Dementia

What was I doing? 

I knew my mom could read, I knew she liked to read, and I was helping her to "remember" how to read, and to read. I also had her reading books in bed at night. She continued to do this. Do it even though she couldn't remember a word she read. She kept on reading anyway.

Finally we would get to the crossword puzzle and comics. Sometimes mom would read a comic and laugh. Not that often though.

Mom continued to do the crossword puzzle day after day, year after year. She could still get some of the 3 word answers much to my surprise. And sometime she would get a 4 letter word and this would really make me feel happy. Here is an example. Four letter across, clue, the price is (blank). She watched that show daily for about 30 years. She still remember it.

One of the most important things you must do is develop a daily routine. This really works. As part of the routine do what your loved one liked to do. And when possible, do it with them.

Many people think that dementia patients are not (not) social. Nothing could be further from the truth. Alzheimer's patients like to talk.

For example, my mother would talk sometimes for hours a day to the world's greatest caregiver - Harvey. This alerted me to the fact that dementia patients like to talk. Sometimes Dotty would tell Harvey something she would not tell me. For example she would say, Harvey I have a spitting headache. Didn't say a word about it to me, she did tell Harvey.

There are these wonderful people in the world. They know how to talk and communicate with dementia patients. These people never drank the Kool-Aid. They don't feel or see the stigma. They just see a person. Remarkable if you ask me.

So my sister Joanne, Ruth, Jim, Jeanmarie, and our new found friend Helen could sit there and talk to Dotty for hours on end sometimes.

Now if you let a dementia patient sit around and watch the "boob tube", or sit around doing nothing they might not say a word for hours on end. Or, until they get hungry.

Find some yakkers, people that like to talk. They can talk about the old days - those memories are still there.

Get a coloring pad. Get some music (from the time when your loved one was 13-25 years old). And get a lot of pictures. Put them on the kitchen table, on the table in front of the sofa, on side tables, and on the table next to the bed. Put em everywhere. Don't worry your loved one will pick them up and start looking. Then you can have a conversation.

Most importantly, go get yourself the greatest caregiver tool of them all.

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Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR). Bob is a recognized expert, writer, speaker, and influencer in the Alzheimer's and Dementia Community worldwide.

The Alzheimer's Reading Room contains more than 5,000 articles and has been published daily since July, 2009.

You are reading original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room

The Alzheimer's Reading Room operates for the benefit of Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers worldwide. Our content has been read by readers in 206 countries around the world.

The Alzheimer's Reading Room contains over 5,000 articles, and has published daily since July, 2009.