When memory is lost


How do relate to someone with a memory-related disease? 

by Charles Buller

If you are at least 50 years old, you know what it is like to try to remember a small detail, recall someone’s name or search for a misplaced cell phone. You might even poke fun at yourself and call it a “senior moment.” What is not funny is that dementia and memory-related diseases like Alzheimer’s are increasing at a rapid rate in our culture.

The debate about whether we simply diagnose these problems better than we used too does not dilute the fact that 2.5 to 5 million Americans struggle with Alzheimer-related symptoms. Memory related illnesses will only increase as the Baby Boomer generation ages—there are simply more of them. Alzheimer’s, for example, typically strikes after the age of 60.

In my role at Palm Village Retirement Community I have a good deal of contact with families who are attempting to cope with and respond to memory-related illnesses. I conducted an unofficial poll and asked them to offer their advice to church and family members who will face similar uncertainties.

  • Love unconditionally; it is “their” disease you are sharing.
  • Don’t be afraid to repeat questions and conversations.
  • Allow people to become someone different than you’ve known. Don’t assign moral judgments to changes in personality. Some memory-related illnesses lead to a complete personality change.
  • Enjoy moments and times of clarity and thinking when they occur.Anticipate some “pushback.” This is an uncertain time for all involved.
  • Refuse to isolate yourself as a caregiver. Join a support group if you need help. There are many available.
  • Start early to make plans for transitions. Involve children and siblings in the process. Don’t just push it off on the closest sibling, be that emotional or geographical. This requires a “village.”
  • Recognize that savings are for spending when it comes to senior health care. This is not the time to begin an estate plan that shifts assets for the heirs but puts at risk the quality of care for the sick.
  • If someone you love shows signs of dementia, it is never too early to seek professional counsel, be that legal, medical, spiritual or in retirement living.
  • If you are 50-years plus and enjoy good health, begin now to do estate planning, will preparation and settle the question of long-term health care—or not—before it becomes necessary.
  • Accept the new normal. Our society as a whole will be in an aging process that will not reverse itself for another 30 years. Churches should plan and staff accordingly.If you are a young person with an interest in health care, consider a calling into some form of geriatric health care. Aging is one of life’s certainties. None of us is entirely who we used to be and will certainly be effected by the aging process regardless of our health. Memory capacity actually begins to decrease in our 30s.

While loss of mental dexterity does not diminish in the same way for everyone and can be guarded with simple mental exercises (Search “keep your memory sharp” at Mayoclinic.com) the fact is, aging will change us all. As a “youth culture” gets older, how will we adapt? Denial is a favorite habit of most humans. In aging it is an enemy, not an ally.


Charles Buller is vice president of advancement for Palm Village Retirement Community in Reedley, Calif.


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