How memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients works may at first seem mysterious to those whose loved one’s are suffering from the disease. The senior can tell stories about their childhood, but doesn’t remember that they had lunch just a half hour ago. It just doesn’t seem to make sense.
First, it may be helpful to learn a little bit about the nature of memory. When a person who does not have Alzheimer’s undergoes an experience or learns a piece of information, a part of the brain called the hippocampus plays a role in taking in that new tidbit. However, in Alzheimer’s patients the hippocampus is one part that suffers first, thus preventing new memories from registering properly. Also, memories that have an emotional component to them are stored separately from other memories. This may explain why dad can’t remember what he did with his glasses, but can talk about his service during the Korean War.
As the disease advances, even older memories stored elsewhere in the brain begin to disintegrate. Also, plaque builds up in the nerve cells in the brain, which may lead to disorganized thinking or confusion.
Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do yet to stop this process. However, you can help a loved one with Alzheimer’s by sticking to a routine. The regular schedule will help them be more comfortable and feel less confused. Also try to reduce the amount of extra stimulation, such as noise, that the patient is subjected to. All the additional activity can contribute to disorientation.
It can be very stressful for caregivers to watch their loved one lose their memories, especially their most-cherished ones. During this time, be sure to take care of yourself. Seek out friends and family who can give you support. Caregivers can too easily feel alone and shut themselves in their own worlds. Don’t let this happen to you.
You might find it helpful to learn as much about Alzheimer’s as you can, so that you know what to expect. Never take your loved one’s forgetfulness personally: it is the disease that is causing your dear Aunt Judy to forget your name, not any lack of love on her part. And finally, choose to make light of the situation as much as you possibly can. Yes, the pain will still be there, but if you can laugh about the effects of the disease, you can manage to ease the negativity you may be feeling.