4 Things to Remember If You Know Someone With Memory Loss or 'Brain Fog'
When someone develops memory loss, this doesn’t affect their intelligence level. Whatever their intelligence before the memory loss was, it still is. It is rude and hurtful to treat them as if their lack of memory about something equates to lack of intelligence. They’re the same as they were before their memory or cognitive issues set in. Treating them poorly will only upset them and make things worse.
They aren’t being lazy, neglectful, or noncompliant. They truly don’t remember! Saying things like “I just told you this a few minutes ago” or “Yes, we did discuss this last week” is not going to help anything, and can be quite upsetting to them. There’s something organic going on in their body that affects their ability to recall certain things. It’s not their fault; they’re not doing these things on purpose. They’re likely just as upset about what’s going on as you are.
Sometimes the impairment can come and go. Intermittent cognitive impairment can be very difficult to deal with. If your loved one gets a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, receives a brain injury, has a stroke, or has any number of things that may lead to a permanent change in cognitive functioning, that can be hard to deal with at first. Usually family and friends are able to adjust to the new reality and learn how to deal with it better. When it’s something that comes and goes, however, it can be more difficult for people to understand. There are many things that can result in temporary memory loss or cognitive impairment. TIAs, also called mini-strokes, can cause stroke-like symptoms that include cognitive impairment, but this clears up after a time. Some people with migraine experience memory loss during their migraines and seizures could also cause temporary memory problems. There are many neurological conditions that could cause temporary memory loss while in the middle of an episode. There are also autoimmune conditions that can result in memory loss and impairment during flare-ups. For these individuals, they function normally most of the time, but experience symptoms only during “episodes” or “flares” of their condition. It is important for you to learn all you can about your loved one’s condition, and learn the signs of a new flare or episode so you can be prepared to help them out during that time.
Fear, shame, and guilt can often be expressed as anger. Anger outbursts are common in people with memory issues. When someone is accustomed to being high-functioning, it is scary to them when they realize their memory is slipping. When people are scared, they tend to lash out. Family members often make the situation worse when their response is to accuse the person of purposefully doing something wrong. They may feel shame and embarrassment because of their lapses in memory and try to cover it up or blow it off rather than admit they’re having memory problems. When confronted, they can turn angry and also guilty about how their memory issues are affecting their family. How you react to them can escalate their anger. Becoming educated on how to interact with them in a way that is non-blaming and non-judgmental could help you not to escalate anything further. You owe it to yourself and your loved one to treat them with dignity and respect, especially in trying times.
Kristi King-Morgan is a social worker and psychotherapist with a trauma-informed and strengths based therapeutic approach. Kristi currently holds a position as a medical social worker and provides crisis intervention to patients and families, which includes psychoeducation and self-care strategies for patients with chronic illness, injury, and aging issues, and self-care strategies to families/caregivers.
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