Practical tips for supporting someone with memory loss

There are many practical ways that you can support a person with dementia who is experiencing memory loss. Read our advice for some of the most common memory problems.

Common memory problems and how you can help

  1. Forgetting recent conversations or events 
  2. Forgetting names or words 
  3. Having difficulties with day-to-day tasks 
  4. Getting lost outside the home 
  5. Getting lost at home 
  6. Forgetting upcoming events 
  7. Struggling to recognise faces 
  8. Forgetting beliefs and aspects of identity 

1. Forgetting recent conversations or events

People with dementia may find it hard to remember recent conversations and events, even in the early stages. 

Due to the damage that is causing the person’s dementia, their brain may not have stored the information. This means that they cannot bring back the memory of the event or discussion because they may not have that memory.

How you can help

  • Pictures and written descriptions can be useful records of things that have happened. Encourage the person to use a diary, journal or calendar to record events and conversations.
  • Give simple answers to questions and repeat them as often as needed. You can also write the answer down so that the person has a note of it. It won’t help to tell them that they have heard the information before.
  • If the person can’t remember whether they have done something or not, try to give context to your question and include prompts. For example, ‘It must be a while since you ate breakfast, are you hungry?’ rather than ‘Have you had breakfast?’.

2. Forgetting names and words

People with dementia may have difficulties finding the right word in a conversation. They may confuse one word for another, or forget the meaning of certain words.

They might also forget the names of friends or family members whom they have known for a long time and are close to.

How you can help

  • If the person is struggling to find a word, give them enough time to say what they are trying to say. Feeling under pressure can make it more difficult for them.
  • If you are not sure what the person is trying to tell you, consider the context of what they are saying. This may give you clues about the word they are looking for.
  • If the person doesn’t understand a word you are using, try using prompts, cues and context to help with naming items. The person may recognise an object and what it is used for, even if they can’t remember what it is called.
  • If the person is struggling to remember someone’s name, try to find tactful ways to remind them without highlighting that they have forgotten – for example, ‘Here’s your friend, Elena’.
  • Consider using a ‘memory book’ or ‘memory box’ with photos and brief information on people (such as their name and the story of how the person knows them). The person with dementia can then refer to this if they want to.

3. Having difficulties with day-to-day tasks

As dementia progresses, the person will have more difficulties with daily tasks, especially those that involve following a set of steps such as getting dressed or making a cup of tea. They may not remember the order of the steps to follow. 

It is important to support them to do as much as possible for themselves, for as long as they can.

How you can help

  • Help the person to perform tasks by breaking them down into smaller, simpler steps. It can help to write short instructions and place them nearby.
  • Consider the time of day when the person is usually more able to concentrate and try to schedule tasks for these times.
  • Make sure that items that the person uses regularly are clearly visible to them. Make tasks easier by putting out the items the person will need– for example, place tea bags and a mug near the kettle.
  • Use reminders, such as sticky notes or a wall calendar, for one-off tasks. Set up more permanent reminders for regular tasks – for example, put up a sign by the front door to remind the person to take their keys and wallet if they leave the house.
  • Assistive technology devices can help people with dementia manage everyday activities – for example, electronic pill boxes can remind the person to take daily medication. Assistive technology can also help to reduce danger – for example, through using gas valves and smoke alarms. 
  • Talk to an occupational therapist. They will be able to advise on coping strategies and suitable devices for help with day-to-day tasks. 

4. Getting lost outside the home

A person with dementia may leave the house and forget where they were going or why. They may also have problems recognising familiar environments and this can lead to them getting lost or coming to harm. 

How you can help

  • If the person gets lost when going out alone, consider going out with them, or arranging for someone else to do so.
  • If the person is happy to, it can help if other people who live nearby are told about the person’s difficulties. People like neighbours and local shopkeepers may be able to help if the person gets lost.
  • The person may find having a mobile phone useful. There are easy-to-use mobiles available if the person is not used to having one. You may also consider using assistive technology products, such as a GPS device. For more information see Using technology to help with everyday life
  • Make sure the person has some form of identification when they go out, as well as contact numbers of people they know well. An emergency identification device, such as those provided by MedicAlert, may be helpful.  

Alzheimer’s Society also provide helpcards that people with dementia can carry around with them in case they need assistance when out in the community. See our information on supporting a person who often leaves the house.

5. Getting lost at home

People with dementia may forget the layout of the home they are in and become confused about where each room is located. 

Sometimes, a person with dementia does not recognise the home they are in at all. As their dementia progresses, they may say that they want to ‘go home’, even when they are at home. This could be because the person does not remember that the place they are now is where they currently live. 

How you can help

  • If the person is recalling a home that they used to live in, speak with them about this other home, and what it means for them. This may help them to place it in the past.
  • Reassure the person that they are safe if they ask to go home, and encourage them to talk about their feelings. Asking questions like ‘What do you like about your home?’ may help you understand what they need to feel comfortable.
  • Make sure that the person is surrounded with familiar items that will help them feel at home. 
  • Keep a reminder of the current home address somewhere visible to remind the person of where they are.
  • If the person forgets the layout of the home, try putting up signs to help them find the bathroom, kitchen and other rooms they use regularly. Dementia-friendly signs are available to buy from our online shop.

For more tips on making the home a better space for people with dementia see Making your home dementia-friendly.

6. Forgetting upcoming events

People with dementia may forget upcoming events such as medical appointments, visits and anniversaries. This can cause problems if you’re not always around to remind the person beforehand.

How you can help

  • Think about how the person remembered events in the past. Using a similar technique is likely to work better than trying to learn a new one.
  • Help the person to use calendars and clocks to remind them of upcoming events. Place these where they will see them.
  • If the person has an online calendar on their phone, tablet or computer, consider entering reminders for upcoming events and appointments. Virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri can also be useful for this purpose.
  • If the person is given an appointment card, put it where the person can easily see it. Our booklet My appointments can help the person keep track of appointments, advice and support from professionals.

7. Struggling to recognise faces

As the person’s dementia progresses, they may have difficulty recognising familiar faces, including their own reflection. Not recognising themselves or the people around them  can make them feel as though there are intruders in their home. 

Our dementia advisers are here for you.

Even if the person doesn’t seem to recognise those closest to them, they can still have an emotional attachment to those people and feel close to them. 

How you can help

  • Try to find tactful ways to give the person cues or reminders without mentioning their memory loss – for example, ‘Hasn’t our granddaughter grown?’.
  • Reassure the person and try to make them feel safe and comfortable. If they don’t recognise people, they may feel that they are surrounded by strangers and get distressed.
  • Try not to show the person that you are offended or upset if they do not recognise you – it is unlikely to be a personal rejection. Try to focus on how they respond to you in the moment. Even if they don’t seem to recognise you, they may still smile at you or want to speak with you.
  • Someone with dementia may still be able to recognise people’s voices or the way they smell. Hearing a person speak or smelling their perfume or aftershave may help them to recognise that person.

It can be upsetting if someone you care for does not recognise you. Try to talk about how you feel with someone you trust. 

8. Forgetting beliefs and aspects of identity

As the person’s dementia progresses, they may forget or misremember certain beliefs or aspects of their identity which have been important to them. This can include religious beliefs and practices, aspects of sexual orientation and gender identity, and dietary choices, such as being vegan.

Try to use what you know about the person and respect their preferences and beliefs as much as possible.

How you can help

  • If the person has forgotten that they used to follow a particular diet, such as veganism, they may now want to eat certain foods that they did not used to eat. Changes to a person’s diet can affect their digestion. If possible, speak to a dietician or to the person’s GP before the person begins eating these foods. For more advice on this see Eating and drinking.
  • If the person has forgotten aspects of their faith that used to be important to them, think of other aspects of worship they might still enjoy or respond to. For example, they may still enjoy religious music and songs, or take comfort in holding or wearing symbols of their faith. 
  • If a person with dementia who is LGBTQ+ has memory problems, they may forget important aspects of their sexual identity. Read our advice on supporting an LGBTQ+ person with dementia.

You can read more detailed information on this subject in our publication, ‘Supporting a person with memory loss’. Download the pdf or order a print copy.

You can also listen to our audio helpsheet below for a summary of our tips to help cope with memory loss:

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