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Understanding Behaviors of Dementia: Memory Loss and Confusion

Memory loss is the behavior most commonly associated with Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders. It is also often the most difficult for the loved ones of a person living with dementia, as it requires a great deal of patience and understanding.

Alzheimer’s causes progressive damage to brain cells that eventually result in memory loss and confusion, among other behavioral changes. Changes in routine can cause symptoms to worsen.

In the early stages of dementia, memory loss and confusion are often mild. They are generally manifested in difficulty recalling recent events, decision making or processing what others are saying. As dementia progresses, memory loss becomes more severe. In this stage, you may notice your loved one calling family members by other names or becoming confused about locations of familiar places, such as home. A person living with dementia may also forget how to use common items such as a fork or hairbrush.

Dealing with Memory Loss and Confusion

Watching a loved one suffer from memory loss can take an emotional toll on caregivers. If you are caring for your loved one with dementia, here are some tips and techniques to help you respond to memory loss and confusion.

  • Don’t take it personally. Being called by the wrong name can be painful, but remember that it is not intentional. Try to be understanding and remain calm when this happens.
  • Offer a simple explanation. If your loved one is confused, long explanations or reasons can be overwhelming. Instead, offer a brief, simple explanation in an effort to minimize frustration.
  • Evoke memories with photos and other reminders. Photographs of important relationships and places can be particularly helpful for an individual suffering from memory loss. Making a photo book of close family members and even household items may prove useful.
  • Take a trip down memory lane. At times it may seem your loved one has been transported to a different time. Don’t be afraid to engage them in conversation about this time in his or her life.
  • Avoid scolding. Corrections can sometimes come across as scolding. Offer corrections as suggestions instead, such as: “I thought it was a fork,” or “I think he is your son John.”
  • Make a daily routine. Setting a daily plan can help your loved one accomplish simple daily tasks. A set schedule can help them be more successful and limit mistakes. For more tips on creating a daily routine, click here.

Most importantly remember that sometimes it is best to avoid topics of conversation or discussion that may agitate, anger or confuse your loved one. For example, for some, talking about the past may be upsetting or agitating for any number of reasons. If you are aware of any particular topics or scenarios that may be upsetting for your loved one due to his or her memory loss or confusion, redirect the conversation to a topic that is less stressful.

For more tips on dealing with memory loss and confusion, visit alz.org.