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Dealing With Alzheimer's Disease Memory Loss

How to Cope With Memory Loss in the Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer’s Memory Loss continued...

As many as 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

“This is such a devastating diagnosis,” says Beth A. Kallmyer, MSW, director of family and information services for the national office of the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago. Many newly diagnosed people think immediately of severely impaired, late-stage patients, Kallmyer says. But “what’s happening now is that people are getting diagnosed earlier and earlier and they’re still able to participate in lots of different things in their lives.”

“There’s no cure for this disease,” Kallmyer adds, “but we can help them put some things in place, make those plans, think about the best way to address their long-term-care concerns. If they address it early on, they’re empowered to participate in that process and we think that’s really important.”


There are no drugs to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, but several medications may help improve mental functioning temporarily in some patients. A group of drugs called cholinesterase inhibitors works by supporting communication among nerve cells by keeping acetylcholine levels high.

“They only work a specific period of time and they don’t work for everyone,” Kallmyer cautions.

However, MacInnes takes Aricept, a cholinesterase inhibitor, and has found it helpful, he says. “I’m still fairly lucid and articulate.”

A different type of drug, Namenda, may be prescribed for moderate to severe Alzheimer’s. It contains memantine, which regulates the activity of glutamate, a chemical involved in learning and memory.

Tips for Coping With Memory Loss

Once a busy executive with a large staff, MacInnes was expert at juggling multiple demands. Now retired, he keeps his tasks on track by writing them on a card. “I put down the five things that I want to do that day and I prioritize them, one through five,” he says. “Some days, I get them all done, and some days, I get three or four. But it’s a day-by-day focus and it does help me.” On a recent day, his list included: storing away the patio furniture, pruning shrubs, organizing the cellar, and organizing a wood-carving area.

Daily life becomes challenging because Alzheimer’s patients may clearly recall events long past, but quickly forget recent conversations and events. They may have trouble keeping track of time, remembering appointments, or recalling people’s names. To cope with memory loss, the Alzheimer’s Association provides the following tips:

  • At all times, keep a book of important notes with you. Make sure it contains your address and phone number, as well as emergency contacts. The book should also contain a map showing the location of your home, a “to do” list of appointments, and thoughts or ideas you want to remember.
  • Consider ways to make sure that you can return home safely if you wander away or get lost. The National Institute on Aging recommends that people with Alzheimer’s disease wear an ID bracelet with the name and phone number of someone who can come and get them. Several companies sell locators, some of which use global positioning system (GPS) technology, to help locate Alzheimer’s patients. Kallmyer recommends enrolling in the MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return program, which is a 24-hour, nationwide emergency response service which assists Alzheimer’s patients who wander or have a medical emergency. “Some people think that wandering is something that only happens in later stages, when people are much more confused; but the truth of the matter is that it can happen at any time,” Kallmyer says. If you choose to enroll in a program, be sure to ask about the cost and exactly what services are provided.
  • Post phone numbers in large print next to your phone. Include emergency numbers, along with your address and a description of where you live.
  • Label cupboards and drawers with words or pictures that describe their contents, such as sweaters, socks, dishes, or silverware.
  • Get an easy-to-read, digital clock that displays the time and date. Put it in a prominent place.
  • Be careful with electrical appliances. Leave written reminders to yourself to turn off the stove or unplug the iron; or get appliances with automatic shut-off features.
  • Enlist a reliable friend or relative to call with reminders about meal times, appointments, and medication.

As Alzheimer’s progresses, familiar tasks, such as balancing a checkbook, following a recipe, or making small household repairs, may become harder. Consider finding help if you’re having trouble doing certain things.

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