The emotional impact of living with memory loss

Everyone reacts differently to memory loss. It can cause a range of emotions in both the person with dementia and those supporting them.

Supporting a person with memory loss
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Helping the person with memory loss to manage their emotions

Some people with dementia may not seem troubled by their memory loss, while others may find it frustrating and upsetting. The person may lose self-confidence and be embarrassed by their difficulties. They may begin to withdraw from social situations or stop doing things they usually do.

Memory loss can also lead to people misplacing items that they then might think others have moved or stolen. This can sometimes cause anger and mistrust between the person with dementia and those around them. See ‘Dementia and hiding, hoarding or losing things’ for more advice.

Making decisions for someone with dementia

Read more about assisting somebody with dementia to make decisions and when it's appropriate.

Making decisions

It can be helpful to be aware of these difficulties and find ways to provide support. The following suggestions might help:

  • If the person is ready to, encourage them to talk about how they are feeling. If they are frustrated or upset because of their memory difficulties, it can help to talk through some of the issues with them.
  • Look for different ways to manage some of the day-to-day problems they are having. For suggestions, see Practical tips for supporting someone with memory loss.
  • If the person is worried about the future, try to understand their concerns and help them focus on the present. Think of what they can still do and encourage or support them to continue doing these things. There are approaches for supporting people with memory loss which can help rebuild confidence.
  • Encourage the person to continue spending time with other people and to take part in meaningful activities that do not rely as much on memory, such as word or number games.
  • If the person is frustrated because of their memory problems, they may get distressed or agitated. In these cases, it may be best to gently change the conversation or activity.

For more information on changes in behaviour and tips on how to cope with these see Changes in behaviour.

Managing your emotions as a carer for someone with memory loss

If you are supporting a person with dementia who is living with memory loss, you are also likely to feel a range of emotions. For example, if the person is recalling earlier happy memories, it can sometimes be nice to reminisce together. This can make you feel closer to the person.

But it can also be difficult to care for someone with memory loss. For example, you may feel embarrassed if the person forgets who someone is, or if they no longer remember how to carry out a task. Or you might feel sad that the person has forgotten memories that you share with them.

It can be tiring and frustrating to be asked the same question many times, and this might make you feel guilty. You may also feel unsure about what you can talk about with the person without relying too much on their memory.

It is natural to feel these emotions when caring for someone with memory loss. Reminding yourself that the person’s difficulties are because of their dementia may help you to deal with these feelings.

It is also worth reminding yourself that, by supporting the person, you are making a positive difference to their life. When caring for someone else, the needs of that person often come before your own. This can make it difficult for you take care of yourself. However, it is just as important to look after your own physical and mental health

If you are trying to process how the person’s memory loss is making you feel, you may find a talking therapy useful. These will allow you to explore your feelings in private. To get in touch with a therapist, you can speak to your GP or you can find a private therapist by contacting the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Carers: looking after yourself

Find out more about accessing support and looking after yourself when caring for somebody else.

Support for carers
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