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What Do Alzheimer’s Patients Remember & Why?

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A woman concerned over her partner who is having a difficult time remembering

Navigating the Journey of Memory Loss

If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, it may be difficult to understand why some memories fade more quickly than others. Experts are still studying ways to unravel the brain’s inner workings, but recent research into memory loss may offer a few explanations.

Alzheimer’s disease progressively impairs cognitive function, creating issues with planning, memories, and everyday experiences. It can become overwhelming to perform basic tasks like cleaning, hygiene, and shopping. 

Our loved ones experiencing memory loss may have difficulties perceiving time, arriving too early for appointments, or extremely late for engagements.

Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease 

Alzheimer’s affects recent memories first, causing difficulties in the retention of new events and information. Other early signs of Alzheimer’s disease can include: 

  • Memory loss that affects daily life
  • Challenges with planning 
  • Challenges with problem-solving 
  • Confusion with time and place 
  • Difficulties with visual images and spatial relation 
  • Struggles remembering words when speaking and writing 
  • Frequently lost items 
  • Decreases in judgment and decision-making
  • Withdrawing from hobbies, favorite activities, and social engagements 
  • Mood swings 
  • Personality changes 

Past Vs. Present 

Sometimes we wonder how our loved ones remember personal events from their childhood, yet not recall events from earlier in the day. 

Research shows that patients with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia often have difficulties remembering events in the short-term past, but can access remote memories from many years ago. 

When our loved ones experience memory loss, the latest memories are often the first to fade. It can be difficult to remember events from 1 hour prior, but moments from decades ago remain fresh in their minds. 

Memory is a collection of different systems within the brain, and research shows that patients with Alzheimer’s disease have better recall of frequently retrieved events. So, why exactly does this happen? 

A puzzle of a human head with two pieces of where the brain would be laying off to the side to symbolize Alzheimer’s disease

The Hippocampus & The Cortex 

Our short-term memories rely on a part of the brain called the hippocampus. New experiences and memories present themselves in this area of the brain before being transmitted by the hippocampus to another site for “long-term” storage, creating long-term memories. 

The hippocampus is typically the first part of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease; this results in the hippocampus not retrieving short-term memories, like new events, routines, or people.  

Familiar or long-term memories rely on a different area of the brain called the cerebral cortex. New memories often don’t have as much emotional attachment to them as those stored in the cortex. 

Memories of childhood often remain with us longer because they are more deeply entrenched in our cerebral cortex. We have had more extended periods to process and remember specific events in our past. 

The Importance of Reminiscing 

Caring for a loved one affected by Alzheimer’s disease can be a heart-wrenching process for friends and family, and often we are unsure of the proper steps when our loved ones can only access remote memories.

Although it’s challenging to have a loved one essentially living in the past, their remote memories should not be ignored, scolded, or suppressed. Rather than trying to bring your loved ones back to the present, it may be more beneficial to venture with them into their memories. 

Reminiscence therapy is a tool that can help boost mood, well-being and minimize negative behavior in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Discussing past memories, events, loved ones, and experiences may provide a stabilizing effect on your loved ones with memory loss. 

Reminiscence therapy promotes the value and respect of your loved one’s legacy. 

A Memory Bank 

When you document your loved one’s stories, you emphasize all the positive things they’ve done and experiences they’ve had. Creating a memory bank for your loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease can help remind them of their friends and family, special events, and favorite places. 

You can preserve their memories in a variety of ways, like: 

  • Create an electronic folder with pictures of family members and mementos from your loved one’s life. 
  • Research and record descriptions of significant events in your loved one’s life. 
  • Create a scrapbook of memories; using photos, newspaper articles, letters, and greeting cards. 
  • Fill a box with pictures of your loved one’s life. 
  • Show them any diaries, journals, poetry, sketches from their past. 
  • Have family members and friends make a video or audio recordings of their personal stories. 
  • Make a video or audio recordings of their favorite TV shows, movies, and songs. 

Long after your loved one’s memory fades, the treasury you’ve created can help remind you of who they were before they were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Resources at Your Fingertips 

If you are looking for more information about the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on your loved one or require support in your journey, reach out to our compassionate and experienced team at Meadowcrest at Middleton. 

Do not hesitate to contact us with any questions; we’re only a call or an email away! We have access to a wide variety of resources to help navigate your loved one’s memory loss.

Written by Quinna Staten

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