It can be one of the most frustrating aspects of having a loved one with dementia. Dad will ask the same question repeatedly. “What time are you picking me up?”
You answer him, and three minutes later he asks it again. “What time are you picking me up?” You lose your temper. You say something that later you regret. Yet, he has vivid recollections of the house you grew up in and many other things from long ago.
This is due to the fact that many dementias attack short-term memory first. Short-term memory operates like a “Post-it Note” for information that is being processed and has not yet been filed away for the long haul. For example, your ability to understand this paragraph requires you to understand and retain the first sentence while you read remaining sentences.
While there are some tricks you and Dad can do to help him recall things – physical Post-it Notes are very helpful – an important part of the solution is patience and understanding on your part. Your father’s short-tem memory loss is due to real physical changes taking place in his brain. If you could look inside his head, you would see that his hippocampus, the area responsible for holding short-term memories, has become atrophied. He simply has lost the ability to retain the information you give him.
Think of it this way. If your dad had a broken leg and was on crutches, you would not expect him to jump rope. You know that he can’t. It’s the same thing with his hippocampus. It has real physical damage. You can’t see it, however, so you expect him to remember things as though his hippocampus were healthy.
Short-term memory loss is one of the first real signs of dementia. As annoying as it might be to you, realize that it’s even worse for your father. When your dad keeps asking the same question over and over, keep in mind that he is not giving you a hard time, he is having a hard time.
About the Author:
Lorenzo Mejia and his wife, Mary Lynn Ryerson, are the owners of Acorn, a caregiver registry located in Chapel Hill.
They founded Acorn based on their experiences caring for his mom, who suffered with Alzheimer’s Disease. In 2013, he became a Qualified Dementia Care Specialist. In 2014, the Alzheimer’s Foundation named him the Dementia Care Professional of the Year in the United States.
Lorenzo is the founder of Dementia Friendly Orange County an effort to make local businesses more accommodating to people with dementia.
Lorenzo speaks often on dementia and the challenges associated with caring for loved ones. He has been interviewed by ABC News and National Public Radio. He is an advisor to Orange County’s OC-CARES Dementia Capable Community Project.
Acorn provides screened and vetted in-home caregivers for clients with dementia, Alzheimer’s, ALS and other similar conditions. Options include 24/7, live-in, weekly, weekend or hourly care. Acorn serves Chapel Hill, Durham, Hillsborough, Pittsboro and surrounding areas in Orange, Chatham, Durham and Wake counties.