Topics on Aging

By Juan Gallo

How does memory loss affect independence?

May 16, 2022

How does memory loss affect independence?

Last week, we talked about the theme of “Age My Way” for this year’s Older Americans Month. We even introduced a potential solution called self-directed care that facilitates and supports seniors – or anyone with a developmental disability – who wants to live alone.

As we continue to celebrate Older Americans Month, I wanted to explore the very practical aspect of family members facilitating a conversation with their aging loved one about their independence. One particular challenge to that conversation is memory loss due to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

A senior experiencing memory loss often becomes fearful of what they’ve forgotten and distrustful of what they don’t remember. This can lead to aggression against their loved ones. In turn, those loved ones might implement more restrictions out of a desire to protect their parent or grandparent or friend. By trying to exert more control, they ignite even more fear in the person struggling.

It’s important to keep in mind that a person’s desires are still their own, despite the memory loss. Our goal should be to honor those wishes as much as we can.

All those combinations can lead to scary scenarios. So, how do we break the cycle? How do we honor our loved one, despite the memory loss? How do we empower someone who has lost some sense of reality?

It’s important to keep in mind that a person’s desires are still their own, despite the memory loss. Our goal should be to honor those wishes as much as we can.

Based on my experience working with families of a loved one with memory loss, there are two key perspective changes that will help navigate the difficulties.

First, family members should accept that there is a constant learning curve with an ever-moving target. Families should educate themselves on memory loss and what to expect. However, they shouldn’t take what they know and focus only on the black and white of the medical diagnosis.

You can’t protect your loved ones from the symptoms at the cost of their relationship with you. When fear kicks in, the loved one becomes the enemy. I don’t want to say that you should play along with their misconceptions, exactly.

However, your journey with your loved one is more relational than it is medical.

The second thing to do is to put yourself in their shoes. The person experiencing memory loss is still the person you love. You know who they are and how they want to live.

If you know the ultimate goal, well then, how do we accomplish that? How can we keep them in their home AND keep them safe?

If the symptoms say it’s dangerous for the person to live alone and that’s what they want, how can we rally around that person so they have choices? What creative solutions can we offer?

The most important thing is to remember to have an abundance of patience.

If you have a heart for working with seniors experiencing memory loss, please let us know. We offer opportunities to volunteer in memory care centers with a group or individually.

Read more about:
Juan Gallo
Juan Gallo is the CEO of Heart2Heart Outreach, where he oversees the mobilization of volunteers to provide hope, share love and restore purpose to the lives of the aging population across South Florida.

He also serves as a local pastor and as an adjunct professor at Trinity International University, where he is teaching a course on diversity and aging. Juan has a master’s degree in counseling and psychology and is a licensed mental health counselor intern.

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