Early Stage Memory Loss: Have a Little Patience
Last updated: February 2023
Bringing in the mail: A mundane daily task done out of habit - until it isn't. In the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, memory loss or impairment is one of the most noticeable, subtle changes that occur. It's the little changes that make a difference - forgetting the mail, remembering a relative's last name.
You as a caregiver may feel frustrated that what seems like a simple task cannot be completed. You may wonder to yourself, "If only they would just try harder." Imagine how your loved one feels. This is something they have been doing their entire lives.
What was once familiar is now an unknown. How can you help your loved one? Now is a good time to practice patience.
Early stage memory loss
Simply remembering the task is hard enough. Competing with that is the ability to attend to the task.
Think about it, when you're cooking you have to follow the recipe and keep track of what you're doing. Otherwise, it might burn or not taste too great. Individuals in early-stage Alzheimer's need to do both as well, except their brain isn't letting them.
My Dad used to describe it as first wanting a cup of coffee. He knew the coffee was in the kitchen and to get to the kitchen he had to go downstairs.
By the time he got downstairs, he wouldn't remember why he was in the kitchen. Sometimes he would get stopped before the kitchen by myself or my Mom, maybe asking him a question. If that happened, he wouldn't be able to remember why he was going in that direction in the first place.
How can you help?
First, try not to get upset if the job isn't completed or if the person isn't able to describe what they were doing. It's an adjustment period for you both and you might be equally frustrated.
Look for clues as to what the person's intent was. My Dad may have had a coffee cup in his hand. Instead of asking "Where were you going?" I would be more direct. It is more specific to ask, "Do you want more coffee?" Or, "Do you want to go to the kitchen?"
Similarly, you might find your loved one is coming in and out of the door or just standing next to the mailbox. Instead of getting upset, try asking for their help getting the mail. Maybe they hold it, while you open the door to go back inside. Give them the option to help. Don't make them feel as if they have done something wrong.
Coping with Alzheimer's memory loss
It is easy to quickly become annoyed when you start noticing changes in your loved one's ability to complete common household jobs. You may hold out hope that maybe it's a fluke and they'll get it next time. Either way, patience is key. Take a deep breath. Some days you may just have to get the mail yourself.
How have you managed to cope with Alzheimer's memory loss? Tell us about your experience in the comments below, or share your story with the community. We'd love to hear from you.
Have you or your loved one been diagnosed with Mild cognitive impairment?