With more and more seniors dealing with Alzheimer's and dementia than ever before, experts from all walks of life have been trying to come up with ways to help these individuals with their everyday lives. While the world still waits for a cure for Alzheimer's, many care providers are looking for ways to improve the senior's quality of life and help them through their daily struggles as they cope with this condition.
One of the many things that senior caregivers have been doing in order to help those struggling with dementia-related memory loss is to start using memory aids. Many have found that by using memory aids instead of simply telling a senior what they may be forgetting that seniors are able to feel more independent and do more on their own. These memory aids can also help prevent issues with frustration in seniors before they occur, by providing seniors with the simple reminders they need before they start feeling overwhelmed by their confusion.
What Are Symptoms of Memory Loss or Dementia?
It can be easy to notice the symptoms of memory loss and dementia, but the choice to use memory aids or to seek help from a memory care facility can be a sensitive topic between families and elders. It is a choice that is essential for the well-being of the loved one and for the safety of others. If several of these situations apply to your loved one, then it may be time to consider memory aids, tools or a memory care facility:
- Forgotten, misplaced or incorrect dose of medications or supplements
- Forgotten alarm or gate codes, or forgetting to lock doors at home - being susceptible to crime
- Getting lost on a familiar route such as a nearby walk or while running usual errands
- Declining in daily care activities such as bathing, meals, grooming or chores
- Important information is forgotten such as phone numbers, addresses, bank passwords or other account security information
- Appliances like a stove or oven have been left on, or running water is left on
- Personality changes like mistrusting others, confusion, anger, withdrawal or depression
- Care for the loved one is becoming too involved and interfering with other important responsibilities that the family members have
Just a few of the situations above can be enough to spark the process of looking at memory aids, tools, or special memory care centers. Below we look at an array of ways to help with dementia and memory problems.
Classic Memory Aids
Keep a Central Calendar
A paper calendar may be an old-school memory aid, but it is one that can help any senior with their everyday responsibilities and tasks. Set up a large calendar in the senior's living space that is in a central location and easy to read. The calendar could even be a whiteboard with activities or tasks listed that can easily be wiped clean as completed. A calendar should include everything from social engagements, to appointments and even when visitors or helpers are going to be stopping by.
The calendar needs to be somewhere that the senior will pass by daily as they may need multiple reminders of upcoming engagements. A good central location is in the kitchen. In addition, investing in a large calendar clock which will display the date and day of the week as well as the time can be helpful.
When a senior is consistently reminded of what they need to do that day, week or month, they are much less likely to be surprised, overwhelmed, confused or disoriented.
In addition to a calendar, one of the best ways for those with memory issues to stay focused is to have a set routine, each day. The fewer interruptions to this routine, the better. With this in mind, a great way to help seniors adhere to a routine is to write out their daily schedule and leave it laminated somewhere in the home. Some seniors may even benefit from having multiple copies posted around the home.
This routine checklist should include the following:
- Wake up time
- Morning grooming
- Breakfast time
- Snack time
- Lunch time
- Exercise time (if applicable)
- Dinner time
- Shower time
- Evening grooming
- Pre-bed ritual (listening to music, reading, etc.)
In addition to activities, it is best to include the times for each part of the routine so seniors can stay on schedule and if they get confused, they can determine what they should be doing at any given time during the day.
In-Home Sticky Notes
Sometimes the biggest sources of frustration for seniors comes from forgetting the littlest of things. This is particularly true in the early stages of Alzheimer's and dementia. Not remembering how to use a television remote or the phone number of a family member can be very frustrating for any senior. This is why home sticky notes are so helpful.
These notes can remind any senior of what they need to do during the day and where their everyday items are. These sticky notes can include reminders such as:
- When to return a library book
- When to take trash bins out
- Important phone numbers
- What is inside each cabinet
- To brush their teeth before bed
- To wash their hands before cooking
- Where certain food items are
- How to use the television
- To remember to take keys or shopping list before leaving
Little daily reminders like this may seem silly at times to some seniors, but when they can't remember where a cup is and get very disoriented, these little notes can really be appreciated.
Notes and Notepads
Some seniors dealing with dementia will start forgetting everyday things. Sometimes, they suddenly start remembering these things periodically throughout the day. It is hard to tell with dementia when one will remember and when they won't remember certain things. Therefore, having a small portable notepad or notebook in various areas around the home is such a great idea.
This can be a great way for seniors to write themselves notes on what they need to do, what they did or felt that day, who they need to talk to or any other thoughts they may have. Seniors can write these things down when they remember them or re-visit their notes later. This also helps many seniors feel more in control of their dementia as they have access to their own personal reminders and memory aids, instead of reminders from someone else.
Medication Reminder Box
One of the biggest challenges that many seniors deal with when it comes to their everyday responsibilities comes with managing their medication. While many seniors with dementia may need a care provider to help them with their daily medications, for those who must manage their prescriptions on their own, this can be very challenging.
A medication reminder box is a great tool for any senior. It features different compartments for each day and night for all the different pills that need to be taken that day. There are even products that come with their own alarms that can alert seniors of when it is time to take their medications. Plus, with a simple glance, any senior can tell if they have already taken their medications that day or if they still need to take their pills.
Keep a list of important phone numbers handy. This can be a written list or a list on a smart phone. Contacts to include could be medical care or therapists, family, friends, neighbors, utility or gas company, services, police and more.
Other Memory Aids
Below are some other clever ways to help with dementia and memory difficulties:
- Get a daily newspaper delivered. Keep up with daily happenings and always know the day/date.
- Color code keys. Colored plastic key caps or various key rings can be used to decipher keys.
- Maintain a weekly shopping list of items that have run out and need to be replaced.
Electronic Memory Aids
Technology is here to stay and for seniors suffering memory loss or dementia (and their families) these electronic gadgets and tools can make a world of difference. Often, the goal of using such devices is so the senior can retain their sense of independence.
With the support of helpers, professionals, friends and family, a senior can slowly integrate some of these gadgets. Depending on the functions and features, some are easier to adapt to then others. The convenience and peace of mind these tools offer is worth the effort.
There are several apps that are designed to help with everything from where your parked car is to when to take vitamins. Even seniors who don't have an army of apps can benefit from smart phones and use daily alarms as a reminder for what they need to do that day.
- Calendar -- notifications can be set to alert days, minutes, or hours in advance of activities
- Alarm -- Need to call a friend? Defrost dinner? Multiple alarms can be easily set via voice or app
- Voice Memos -- record a verbal voice reminder or note you can listen to later
- Photos -- Photos can be taken as a reminder, or a visual memory aid instead of verbal or written
- GPS -- GPS is a great built-in function of all smartphones. This can sync with calendar reminders to easily guide you to your destination with a few finger taps
Another helpful function of smartphones is that the senior's location can be shared with anyone, so loved ones or frequent friends can always see where the senior is, or at least where their smartphone is!
Computer or Tablet
Seniors who are familiar with the basics of a computer or tablet can use functions such as reminders, task lists, notes or the calendar to help manage day-to-day tasks, schedule, and routine. Perhaps a sticky note could be used on or near the computer to remind to turn on and check it daily.
Download Specific Tools
If you have a computer, smartphone or tablet there are a range of applications (apps) that are useful for people of all ages, phases, interests and lifestyles. Those suffering dementia are no exception. Sometimes homebound seniors can thrive more with use of particular apps they can benefit from. These might include:
- Meditation and Mindfulness
- Yoga, Fitness, Stretching
- Medication Reminders/Logs
- Social Media -- to stay connected to family or friends
- Brain Stimulation Game Apps
Depending on the type of app, there are lots of different free apps and pay apps available, some apps are even research backed by dementia experts. Often there is an introductory period so you can see how they work before committing to purchase at full price.
Smart Home Devices
Not only are there smartphones and savvy computers and tablets, there are smart-home devices that can make life easier for any senior.
Whether it's automatic window shades, automatic vacuums, lights, temperature control or other new technology crafting daily life, it is no wonder that tech gadgets for the home have increased in production over the last several years. Amazon's Echo (Alexa) hit the market followed by the Google Home device in 2016, seniors now have ways to easily manage home functions like never before. Voice-activated smart speakers, these multi-command devices serve as effortless helpers around the house. Once programmed, a simple audible command such as, "Alexa, increase the temperature to 74," will activate the temperature change.
Seniors can make and receive calls, turn off/on fans and lights, set multiple timers and alarm reminders, and hear news and weather updates, listen to music, or ask questions to these smart speakers. Discover the best features of these and other smart home devices.
What Technologies and Apps Help Dementia?
For those seeking practical information about using technology at home, outdoors, for daily activities and fun, Using Technology in Dementia Care: A Guide to Technology Solutions for Everyday Living is a must read. There is also information for families providing care for someone with dementia which includes specific technologies for making everyday life easier, reassurance and peace of mind, spending time together, keeping in touch, and looking after themselves.
Of course, many of the above tools and gadgets will require some help with initial orientation, process, setup and settings, but they can become priceless assets in the life of a senior suffering from memory issues. These memory aids, habits, tips and electronics can reduce the confusion, overwhelm and pressures of remembering numerous details on any given day. Once again, life can feel more manageable and enjoyable for a loved one suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's.