Memory Enhancers for Someone With Alzheimer's
How to prolong independence for someone with early signs of dementia
The following ideas are easy to implement and will help you manage the daily life of a person with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia.
Hang a wall calendar with large squares in a centralized location. Encourage the person to keep track of the date by crossing off each day on the calendar -- ideally as part of a routine, such as first thing in the morning or before going to bed. Attach a pen or marker to the calendar with a string so it doesn't get lost. Mark key events on the calendar: trash pickup day, family birthdays or events, medical appointments, days any bills are due, family visits.
Keep a large-faced, easy-to-read clock in plain view in every room the person frequents. Ideal is a digital clock that displays the day and date along with the time. You may also want to use written reminders ("I'll be right back at 2 p.m.") or an inverted hourglass to help track time when this ability becomes more difficult.
* Automatic bill payments
Reduce the number of bills the person you're caring for needs to keep track of by helping him or her sign up for automatic bill paying, which draws the funds from a bank account at the right time each month.
* Reminder calls
If you're picking someone with early dementia up for an appointment, call right before you leave the house as a reminder that you're on your way. Don't call first thing in the morning for an afternoon appointment. When phone reminders are given too far in advance, it may cause confusion, and he or she may start getting ready to leave right away, then wonder where you are.
Whether the person in your care takes multiple medications or just one, a weekly pillbox helps him or her remember to do so day by day. Try attaching a cue card to the box with simple instructions covering when and how to take each medication (with meals, at night). If he or she has trouble remembering a pill that must be taken at a specific time, set a reminder alarm if you can -- or an alarm for yourself so you can call to give a phone reminder.
* Hygiene prompts
Keeping important personal hygiene items visible reminds the person to do personal-care tasks. For example, keep toothpaste out on the counter next to the toothbrush rather than in the medicine cabinet.
* Clean sweeps
Clutter and mess can confuse and distract people with Alzheimer's, causing them to forget where they placed or stored items or making them less able to handle certain tasks, like paying bills. Toss old periodicals and junk mail weekly. If someone comes in to clean the home, be sure the employee tidies surfaces and clears old papers -- without drastically rearranging things, which can be confusing.
* Keys and locks
Consider rekeying all the locks in the house so that a single key opens them all -- reducing the number of keys the person has to fumble with on a key chain. Make sure you have copies of the house key for yourself. Give another spare to a trustworthy neighbor in case the person in your care gets locked out of the house.
* Home delivery
Simplify routines by reducing the number of tasks a person has to remember. If he or she typically went out to buy a daily newspaper, arrange for home delivery. Some stores will deliver basic groceries such as milk and eggs. Prescription refills can often be handled by mail.
* Bulletin board
Next to the calendar, hang a corkboard where you can post reminders, frequently used phone numbers (including yours), and other important information.
For some people with moderate dementia, it can be handy to put labels on a few of the most-used drawers and cabinets in the kitchen and bedroom. But keep the labels simple and minimal, as too many may be confusing.
* A corded phone
Dementia sufferers who usually use a cordless telephone may forget to leave it in the cradle or base to recharge it, or they may simply lose it. Cell phone batteries may also run low and get lost. A traditional telephone attached to a cord is a fail-safe backup.
* Photo directory
If the person you're caring for has lots of different faces to deal with -- a meals-on-wheels volunteer, rotating home-health aides, adult daycare workers, physical therapists, doctors -- try taking snapshots of them and placing these in a special album or even on a bulletin board in plain view. Label them with each person's name and relationship to the person in your care. You can refer to the pictures as prompts before a scheduled meeting.
* "Brain gym" activities
Although there's no solid evidence that mental gymnastics can repair brain damage already caused by Alzheimer's, or even slow its progression, some researchers feel intellectual exercises may help people maintain what abilities they have. If they still enjoy reading, crossword puzzles, board games such as chess or checkers, or working puzzles, continue to make those opportunities available. Be aware that these activities can be frustrating if they become hard to follow, so they should only be encouraged if they bring pleasure instead of feelings of inadequacy or failure.
Repetitive suggestions can be far more effective (and less frustrating) than using reason and explanations when you're trying to help someone remember to do something.
* Journals and notepads
Writing things down helps them stick in the memory. Buy a simple day-by-day diary small enough to carry around and record big events (appointments, holidays) and other information to remember, such as details of conversations or things to buy at the store. You can also record key phone numbers there. Providing prompts several times a day to use the datebook can reinforce the habit. Keep extra paper and pens on hand by the telephone and TV for spur of the moment note-taking.
Simple stretching and other regular movement, whether it's done indoors or outside, is thought to slow the advance of Alzheimer's symptoms. If the person in your care previously enjoyed walking, golf, or other exercise, try to find ways to continue it.