Do Not Tell People With Dementia That They Can’t Remember

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Why You Shouldn’t Remind People with Dementia That They Can’t Remember

Do you know someone who lives with dementia? Have you ever been tempted to tell them, “You don’t remember?”  Although this may seem like harmless honesty, this common reaction can inadvertently cause frustration and anxiety in people living with dementia. Having witnessed the profound impact of dementia on a loved one, I have come to understand the importance of compassion and empathy when interacting with people living with this condition. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to refrain from repeatedly telling them they can’t remember.

Why do people with dementia struggle with memory?
Dementia is a severe disease that affects cognitive abilities, including memory. Short-term memory is impacted, making it difficult for people to remember recent events or conversations. Long-term memories are preserved longer, allowing recall of past experiences.

Is it helpful to remind people with dementia of their memory limitations?
No, it’s not.
Have you ever considered whether reminding someone with dementia about their memory lapses is beneficial? It is crucial to recognize that short-term memory is impacted, making it increasingly difficult for people with dementia to remember recent events or conversations.

Reminding someone with dementia that they can’t remember can be counterproductive. Here’s why:

1. Frustration and Anxiety: This highlights their cognitive abilities and can make them feel inadequate or embarrassed.
2. Deteriorating Self-Esteem: Such reminders can damage their self-esteem, causing them to stop socializing and engage in activities they used to enjoy.
3. Stressful Environment: Living in an environment where they are told over and over that they can’t remember can cause them to become depressed.

What’s a better approach?

A compassionate approach is the key to improving the quality of life for individuals with dementia:

1. Patience: Be patient when they have trouble remembering things and do not argue about what has been forgotten. Refrain from saying, “You don’t remember.”;
2. Use cues and prompts subtly: Gently offer reminders or prompts if necessary, but avoid making it obvious that you are trying to make them remember. For example, consider using a large calendar or sticky notes around the home. Tricky strategies can help without causing unnecessary stress.
3. Validate their feelings and experiences: Gently acknowledge their feelings and encourage a positive conversation. A simple response stating “I understand” may help them to feel supported. If you see them getting frustrated, acknowledge you understand them and change the topic. Discuss a pleasant topic of interest.
4. Create a comforting routine: A daily routine can provide stability and security, helping them remember. This familiar technique can help reduce stress and create a more relaxed environment.

Real-Life Example
Wilma, who battled dementia in her later years, taught her daughter Lolita through personal experience the importance of not reminding someone about their memory deficits. At first, Lolita attempted to remind her about things she did not remember. There were many moments when Wilma mixed up details and forgot appointments or names. Reminding her that she could not remember made her angry and worried. Eventually, Lolita realized the impact of her actions on her relationship with her mother and changed her approach. Instead of correcting or reminding her of those mistakes, she listened and talked about topics of interest. This made Wilma feel heard and respected, preserving her dignity and self-esteem, which dementia slowly destroys.

In the journey of supporting people with dementia, it is important to have a compassionate approach. Instead of continuous reminders that they don’t remember, be patient, accept their feelings, and have meaningful conversations about their past experiences. This change in thinking can improve their emotional well-being and the quality of your relationship. Remember, it’s not about what they don’t remember; it’s about valuing what they can remember and preserving their dignity and respect.

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