Helping Mom with her memory.

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My mom has mild vascular dementia and is willing and able to do things to help her memory. I want to help her and I am starting this discussion for others where we can share what works and what doesn't.

First of all, different things work for different people.

Besides some of the little things I encourage and help her to do, I got her enrolled in a group session memory program where there are many different activities. It meets for two hours, once a week, and the activities are never the same, but I think the same people generally show up. Mom never liked going. She hardly ever remembered what they did. She never understood the point of the session. In our area, this is a well-regarded program that the doctors highly recommend. However, I don't think she got anything out of it and I was concerned that maybe I was just fooling myself that she was capable of doing activities that had any complexity, at all.

By chance, there was a class on improving one's memory. It was a set fee. It met for three weeks, two hours per week, included a book, and was a combination of instruction, of discussion of personal memory issues, and exercises. At the end of the three weeks, Mom remembered the names of all 14 people (included the two instructors), could give details on each person, remembered exercises, and generally seemed to get something out of it.

I kind of think I've realized why the second was helpful and the first wasn't. Here are some factors that I think are important for her about the second class:
* It was specific. Everything they did had a reason.
* She understood it. Everything they did was explained to them.
* She was with her peers. Everyone was open about their problems and fears regarding memory. It was a "safe place" to discuss any memory issue a person wanted to discuss.
* The mood was carefully set. The instructors actually told them ahead that they would try and fail with some memory techniques and to just try other techniques - also, to bring successes AND failures to class to discuss. So, the element of failure was introduced, right away, so that everyone would expect it and be less afraid of it.

Mom and I had her attend this second class by accident, not necessarily thinking it was different but just trying a different group so this was by accident that we found something that worked for her.

What kinds of things are some of you finding do and don't work and why?


Geo, my Mom is late middle to early late stage Alzheimer's. There isn't anything that helps with her memory and she is not able to learn new information. She has been attending a day program for 2.5 years that is tailored to people with dementia. They have many activities to use the brain. But when all is said and done, when I take her to the program she will not remember being there before or the names of other people there.

It is wonderful that this seems to help your Mom. Dementias are progressive diseases and do not get better, only a slow descent. Alzheimer's and vascular dementia are very different. Early mild in VD is very different from late middle stage Alzheimer's. There is no chance of improvement with my Mom. These diseases are so cruel.
My Dad has very mild short term memory loss, but not all the time. He found if he writes things down, such as things he needs to do or who to call or what to tell me when I call, that works for him.... until he can't find that list :P

geo my mum has VD she still reads alot and i get her those puzzle books she also still knits and does patchwork sewing she is a very clever woman and was always creative so i guess im lucky in that sense although with her dementia some days are better than others with her diabetes ive noticed when she eats well her puzzles are ok but then the next day she may not be able for them so i just let her be at her own pace as she gets very agitated if she cant do a puzzle or crossword! I think everyone is different and which part of the brain is deteriorating first i think with mum its not so much her memory yet but her reasoning and no sense of danger? so yes i think encouraging their memory in the early stages is a good idea also good diet and balanced sugars help alot with vascular mum never excercised so if only she would do this now fresh air is crucial for brain oxygen but she wont go for a walk which is sad as only 15mins a day would help her so much! I think its great they have these programmes there here unfortunetly they dont seem to have much here for dementia but they are working on it too late for mum? her geriatrician said her lifestyle is the key to her progression right now so the less she does physically the more she will decline. So far so good though regards her memory and she can still do creative things BUT i know this will change soon. I got her some cards at xmas for children you know making pairs out of pictures i think these are great for memory and easy for elders! Also i swear by coconut oil i give it to mum everyday!
gladimhere, it's too bad about your Mom. I'm trying to enjoy my own Mom's mild memory loss in case it does someday become worse, so I'm trying to help her use it while she can.

freqflyer, my mom does kind of go up-and-down, too. In my Mom's case, she sometimes gets so anxious about remembering things that she just can't remember anything, at all, and I guess that is a problem for some people with memory loss - that anxiety about forgetting can make it worse.
FF, my mom used to be a great list maker! Just part of her trying to stay organized. Not only would she lose the list, she forgot what it was for, and forgot to make the list. Such is the sad progression.
glad since caregiving i find i have to make lists now!! Oh dear!
kazzaa, same here... also a lot of notes on the big calendar in the kitchen for myself and my significant other. My parents still live on their own, and I never thought that some day their doctor appointments would show up on MY calendar.... just too much to remember :P
I do believe it is possible to improve quality of life in the early stages, and perhaps even to extend the mild, early stage. I do not believe you can actually cure memory loss, or even stop it from progressing, but you can make the most of what is available while it lasts. How fortunate that you ran into that class, geo123. I wonder if it would help to repeat the class a couple times a year, until loss is too severe -- keep us posted.

Memory trouble is not the most significant problem in Lewy Body Dementia. Tests revealed what I suspected -- the part of the process that was damaged for my husband was taking in the data. He had a hard time "attending." So if it was important for him to remember something I'd try to help him take it in. I'd be sure I had his attention. I would tell him and then also write it down. Sometimes he wrote it down. (Neither of us could read what he wrote, but the act of writing seemed to help him remember it.) We would talk about it briefly. Even all those things didn't always work.

My mother is kept active in the nursing home. I am not sure if it does her memory any good, but it does enhance her quality of life. When she is fretful that her memory is bad I acknowledge that but reassure her. "I know. It is a bummer, isn't it? But you are in a very good place with lots of people who remember for you. Even if you forget that it is dinner time, someone will always come and get you to eat. And you always enjoy the food, even if you don't remember eating it." We both laugh at that.
jeannegibbs, I was kind of sitting here thinking "now what" as to how to continue to help her. With only that one class really working for her, I was thinking about trying to get her into it, again. She is probably going to forget that others have the same problem she does and will then, once again, start to feel like her situation is hopeless and not try quite as hard. Being with her peers was the thing that really made the difference. I'm not sure it was even about the content as much as that.

Unfortunately, except for taking that class, again, I haven't come up with more things to do to help her. When she's feeling less insecure about her memory, her quality of life is better. She is more cheerful, does more activities and chores, just generally in a better state of mind. When she is feeling especially bad about her memory, she sits and stews - sometimes for days on-end.
My mom doesn't have dementia, but does have pretty severe short-term memory loss. But she can still do crossword puzzles and word find books and she loves them. And she still reads the newspapers and reads novels. I haven't found anything to improve her memory.

I'm always trying different "experiments" to see if it helps her remember - like repeating something to her every 30 seconds about 10X or writing it down for her and asking her where the list is. None of it seems to help much. I have found that her memory is different on different days. One day she can't remember someone from the past and the next time I mention it, she's got a clear memory of them and will add details that lets me know she's not just repeating what I said. So it's still a total mystery to me how it works. She'll forget very important things, but remember little piddly things. Go figure!

I'm very open with my mom about her memory loss, stressing she can't help it and in her case, I think it's probably from the medications she's on. She knows her memory sucks but will still tell me, 'Oh I'll remember that', when it's clear she'll forget it in two minutes. So sometimes she can't remember that she can't remember.

This week I'm letting her make her own breakfast but she's called me twice at 6:30 AM to tell me not to come over to make her breakfast. So much for sleeping in! :)

It's a difficult thing for both of us, but we're doing OK so far.

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