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How To Talk to Someone With Short-Term Memory Loss?

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a woman walks with a senior woman with memory loss in a park having a conversation

Someone with short-term memory loss may forget things they just said or did, which can be a natural part of aging. But it can also signal the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia. Senior living communities provide a wide range of memory care needs for people with dementia. 

Short-term memory loss can make social interactions and connections confusing, frustrating, and stressful. Your approach to communicating with a loved one with short-term memory loss can support them better as they cope with these challenges. 

We cover information on short-term memory loss and provide tips on communicating with someone showing signs of memory loss. 

Short-Term Memory Loss

Short-term memory loss is forgetting recent information stored in the brain. If it becomes severe, living alone can be difficult without help. 

Symptoms of short-term memory loss include the following:

  • Repeatedly asking the same questions
  • Forgetting where you put things
  • No memory of recent events
  • Forgetting what you saw and read recently

Tips on How to Talk to Someone with Memory Loss

Changing how you communicate with a loved one because of short-term memory loss is challenging. You are not alone. An estimated 10% to 15% of individuals with mild cognitive impairment (subtle changes in memory) develop dementia yearly. 

As a family member or a caregiver of a loved one suffering from short-term memory loss, the way you talk to them can make all the difference in making them feel understood, cared for, heard, and supported. 

Exercise Patience

People with short-term memory struggle to express themselves with put-together thoughts. It may take time to process their thoughts with long periods of silence or repeating themselves. 

You may feel inclined to provide the words they struggle to find or correct when using the wrong words. Doing that discourages them from trying and makes them reliant on others to interpret what they are thinking or communicating. 

Memory care involves exercising the brain, so taking time to find the words they are looking for is okay. During this time, you can maintain eye contact and an encouraging tone and learn to get comfortable with the silence. 

Keep Communication Simple 

Too much or too complex information can create confusion and stress for someone with short-term memory loss. Simple and direct communication works best. 

Simple words, such as one and two syllables, and short sentences convey meaning better. Sometimes, you may need to repeat something several times. In this case, you can break questions and tasks into smaller steps to not overwhelm them. 

If they still don’t understand, give them a break and try again later or direct them to another topic of interest. 

Use Positive Tone

As a family member or caregiver to someone with short-term memory, you can feel disheartened, but how you talk to them can make them feel good. 

They may have short-term memory but can still sense your mood and read your expressions. Maintain optimism, avoid using a higher than normal pitch and avoid arguments when talking to them. A positive, uplifting tone with gentle gestures provides reassurance and validates their feelings. 

Keep Distractions to a Minimum

People with short-term memory loss can become agitated. Familiar environments with minimal distractions and noise help them focus when communicating. 

Eye contact and speaking directly to them can also help their brain to focus on what you are saying rather than on external noises or distractions. 

Use Not-Verbal Communication

Communicating with gentle touch reinforces affection and reassurance. You can start by asking what type of touch is comfortable.

Different forms of touch can include hugging, holding hands, or placing an arm around their shoulder. Smiling and using body language is also a form of non-verbal communication. So is the use of drawings and illustrations. 

a younger person holds the hands of a senior with short-term memory loss to support communication

Acknowledge Feelings and Offer Encouragement

People with short-term memory can experience frustration as they learn to adapt to their new reality. Acknowledging their feelings lets them know you are there for them and they are loved. 

More than anything, people with short-term memory need encouragement to maintain their independence and confidence. They can be encouraged to talk about stories from their past and share long-term memories. 

Senior Living for Short-Term Memory Loss

Short-term memory loss means someone cannot remember what they recently did, saw, or heard. Feelings and emotions, however, are still intact. How you communicate is key to helping them with the challenges of short-term memory loss.

Learning to talk to someone with short-term memory helps them feel part of the conversation, and you can interact with them in a supportive way. If you are looking for an enriching experience for a loved one with memory loss, contact Tylers Mill Senior Living today. 

Written by Ryan Donahue, Regional Vice President

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