Fall River Jewish Home

Creating Success for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s

Caring for a Massachusetts senior loved one who lives with Alzheimer’s can be challenging. Your temptation might be to jump in and do too much for them rather than watch them struggle. Experts advise that the more someone with memory loss can do on their own—even if it takes more time—the longer they will be able to maintain some semblance of independence.

To help caregivers support a loved one’s success, we thought it would first be helpful to understand the different types of memory and how dementia affects each.

Procedural Versus Declarative Memory

In order to promote successful moments in our loved one’s day, we must understand the very basic two categories of long-term memory.

  • Procedural memory is how to do something. These are the automatic responses that come from repetition. Brushing your teeth or combing your hair is procedural. Some people also refer to these memories as “muscle memory.” It is the most basic form of memory. For people with Alzheimer’s, this type of memory stays intact longer.
  • Declarative memory is a memory that relies on recalling a fact or event. These are memories that you consciously recall. Alzheimer’s disease makes tasks that require use of this type of memory challenging or even impossible.

Creating Success for People with Alzheimer’s Disease

We all need to feel as if we have purpose. It helps us to feel successful. People with Alzheimer’s disease and related forms of dementia are no different. As a caregiver, you can find ways to support memory loss without taking over. Think in terms of what activities they need to complete each day and find ways to work with those. For example, if your loved one is struggling to get dressed on his or her own each day, the challenge might be figuring out what to wear. That requires declarative memory. Support their success by setting up an environment that promotes independence. Here are a few ideas you can use to help them dress more independently:

  • Be sure they have a well-lit place to dress that is respectful of their privacy.
  • Assemble different outfits to wear and hang each grouping together in the closet. Organize pants, shirts, belts, etc. so everything coordinates and is ready to put on. You are making it easier for them to grab an outfit, but still giving them the independence of choosing which one they want to wear.
  • Have undergarments arranged in the order they need to put them on. Whatever garment they like to start with should be on top.
  • Remember to use a positive tone when showing them to their undergarments and closet, and to celebrate their success after they are dressed. “You look great!” or “That is a nice outfit on you!” can help improve their feelings of success and self-worth.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America has more ideas you might find helpful in Caregiving Tips: Daily Routines.

Do you have any tips to share with other family caregivers?

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