Perhaps without meaning to, we often take for granted the value of memory and its role in our everyday lives. It’s our link to our pasts and the thing that allows us to perform simple tasks, such as chores or conversation. Often, it takes seeing someone lose their memory to realize its worth, and as a CNA you may be put in that position.
As discouraging as it can be to watch someone go through this, you can help offer support and comfort with these tips for caring for patients with memory loss.
Understand the Nature of Memory Loss
In media and fiction, we often see sensational stories of people with amnesia or memory loss that don’t offer a clear picture of what memory loss is really like. In order to truly care for patients struggling with memory loss, we have to truly understand what our patients will go through.
Memory loss doesn’t only affect a person’s ability to remember what they’ve just done or the names of family and friends. Memory loss is usually accompanied by dementia, or a general decline in mental activity that impacts daily living. Symptoms of dementia include:
- Trouble focusing
- Unawareness of time
- Difficulty with complex concepts
- Difficulty with decision making
- Having trouble communicating or finding words
- Having trouble understanding language
- Misspelling words
- Getting lost
- Mood and personality shifts including depression, anxiety, or irritability
As a caregiver, these symptoms require patience and understanding. Before growing frustrated, remind yourself that patients with memory loss are constantly at war with their own minds.
As memory loss patient’s greatest battles take place in their minds, symptoms associated with memory loss can also impact their bodies. Memory loss patients often cope with stress and anxiety which increases the production of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol can suppress immune system functions, making patients more prone to illness or infection.
Those with memory loss and dementia also tend to be more prone to incontinence. They often have trouble with interoception, or the awareness of their own bodies and inner needs such as hunger, thirst, or the need to use the restroom. Memory loss patients also tend not to remember the last time they went to the bathroom, leading to accidents.
Causes of Memory Loss
Memory loss may be caused by multiple different things, and the different causes may change what memory loss looks like for an individual. For instance, some emotional disorders, head trauma, or medications may cause mild memory loss or confusion. In this instance, it’s possible that memory loss will improve over time.
However, in many instances, such as a patient having Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, memory loss tends to be permanent and will usually grow progressively pronounced. It’s important to prepare yourself, the patient, and the patient’s family for this reality and encourage them to make important choices while the patient’s memory loss is still mild.
Communication Strategies for Memory Loss Patients
Keep it Simple
As mentioned, memory loss patients often struggle with communication, such as remembering words and processing complicated thought patterns. When communicating with memory loss patients, keep your words and questions simple. Instead of posing open-ended questions, offer them options. If you need to pose multiple thoughts, try to present them one at a time.
Accompanying your words with visual and physical cues will also help eliminate confusion. For instance, if you want your patient to choose what they want to eat, bring out the labels for two different food items and have them point to them. Or, simply use gestures to augment what you’re saying.
Validate, Don’t Argue
The combination of mood swings, reasoning deficiencies, and confusion can potentially lead to arguments that may seem nonsensical to use, but are gravely serious to memory loss patients. Arguing with patients in these situations tends to cause them to become more upset without any real benefits. Instead of getting in an argument, validate their feelings and move on.
For instance, if a patient is accusing another resident of stealing some jewelry from them when they clearly didn’t, instead of focusing on the accusation, respond to the emotion—the straightforward facts—then redirect their attention. “That sounds upsetting. Why don’t I try to find your necklace? In the meantime, you can play this game.”
Even if the short-term memory is gone, many memory loss patients can recall older memories, and discussing these may bring comfort to patients. Asking them to talk about an experience or person in their life is a good way to go about this. For example, asking, “Didn’t you visit Paris? What was Paris like?”
However, if a patient is having trouble remembering details, don’t press them. If they’re struggling to remember, it may be less distressing to reminisce than question. You may phrase it this way. “Look at this photograph of Paris. Your daughter said you saw the Eifel Tower and Notre Dame. That must have been fun.”
Establish a Routine
Routines are extremely valuable for those with memory loss. Routines establish normalcy and predictability, and even though these patients tend to have trouble with short-term memory and awareness of time, the routine can be grounding and comforting. It’s also helpful for those who struggle with incontinence as well as memory loss. By having consistent times they use the restroom, you’ll decrease the number of accidents.
Mood swings can be difficult to navigate for caregivers. Although there may be times when outbursts occur for no reason, often there will be specific things that trigger a patient’s negative feelings. If you can decide what leads to outbursts you can respond to them more quickly and avoid them in the future. Some common causes may be pain, physical needs not being met, the time of day, over-stimulation, or other events.
Incorporate Healthy Activities
Healthy activities for memory loss patients should help improve their physical, social, and emotional health. Light exercise helps improve flexibility, balance, and circulation. Getting patients involved in activities such as hobbies and crafts with other people will help improve their mood and offer a sense of purpose. Additionally, music has also been closely linked to memories and offers many other benefits to memory loss patients.
Memory loss is an incredibly difficult thing for anyone to go through, but as a CNA you can help improve their quality of life. If you’re interested in answering the call for these individuals, we’re here to help you meet the Florida CNA requirements to start your journey into a fulfilling new career.