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
“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,”
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
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
- 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
- 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.