Loved ones with memory-loss issues? Here is how to handle them

3:07 PM, Dec 10, 2012   |    comments
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Holiday gatherings are a great time to catch up with what's happening with family members you may only see a couple times each year. It's also a time when you may notice that loved ones are having memory issues.

There are several conditions that can lead to memory issues. Alzheimer's disease is a cause for memory loss, but it's not the only one. Forgetfulness can be the result of medications, head injuries, stroke, sleep deprivation, stress, and even nutritional deficiencies.

During holiday celebrations, it is important to help those with memory issues feel they are valued as a part of the family. The American Alzheimer's Association offers these simple strategies for making them feel at ease and preventing things from getting out of hand.

1. PLAN AHEAD

Limit distractions.
Large, boisterous gatherings can heighten the confusion of a person with memory issues. Help them find a place at your family gathering that is quiet. Doing so will help the person to focus on his or her thoughts.

2. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR COMMUNICATION SKILLS

Identify yourself and call the person by name.
Greet the person from the front and say who you are. Make good eye contact.

Be patient and supportive.
Let the person know you're listening and trying to understand. Show the person that you care about what he or she is saying and be careful not to interrupt. If he or she is having trouble communicating, let the person know that it's okay. Encourage the person to continue to explain his or her thoughts.

Use short, simple words and sentences.
Slow down the pace of your speech. Use a gentle and relaxed tone because a lower pitch is more calming. Ask one question at a time.

Avoid criticizing, correcting, or arguing.
Listen to the person and try to figure out what he or she is trying to say. Don't tell the person what he or she is saying is incorrect. Repeat what was said if it helps to clarify the thought. Arguing usually only makes things worse and can cause agitation for the person with memory loss. So if the person says something you don't agree with, let it be.

Encourage unspoken communication.
If you don't understand what is being said, ask the person to point or gesture. To help demonstrate a task, point or touch the item you want the individual to use or begin the task for the person.

Focus on feelings, not facts.
Reminiscing may be healthy, but avoid asking, "Do you remember when ...?" Sometimes the emotions being expressed are more important than what is being said. Look for the feelings behind the words. At times, tone of voice and other actions may provide clues

3. ENGAGE THE SENSES

Food is a big part of holiday gatherings. Serve a family favorite. Play familiar music. Dig out the old family photo albums and talk about the pictures. All may help put people with memory issues at ease.

4. GET SUPPORT

Here are some additional resources for dealing with people affected by memory loss:

Alzheimer's Association 

National Institute on Aging

WebMD Coping with Memory Loss 

Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Research Center 

5. ABOVE ALL

Treat the person with dignity and respect. Avoid talking down to the person or talking as if he or she isn't there.

Health Fair 11 wishes you and your family and happy and healthy holiday season.

Health Fair 11 is a partnership of KARE 11, UCare, and North Memorial. Health Fair 11's mission is to provide health care information, materials for consumers, and free or low-cost screenings to members of our community. Find and follow us on Twitter @HealthFair11.

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