6. Services and support from others
Family and friends
Remember that the memory loss is not your fault. Work with those around you to solve problems and cope better with memory problems. Ask them to read through this handbook with you.
Family and friends can support you by:
- talking about how you are feeling
- helping you identify and achieve the things that are important to you
- reinforcing approaches and strategies you are trying
- supporting you to do things, not doing them all for you – for example, reminding you about the calendar clock if you ask ‘What day is it?’, rather than just telling you the day.
- not ‘testing’ you – for example, by asking you, ‘Do you remember who this is?’
- being sensitive and supportive if they need to repeat any information they have already told you.
Many professionals can help you live well with memory difficulties. If you have a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment or dementia, you may already be familiar with some of these. Ask your GP if you think you need to see one of them, especially if memory problems are affecting your daily life.
Occupational therapists can work with you to help you with daily life and personal care. They can support you to continue to carry out daily activities that are important to you. An occupational therapist can give advice on memory aids and coping strategies.
Psychologists can help you with depression or anxiety and adjusting to loss or life-changing events. This can include helping you come to terms with memory loss or a diagnosis of dementia. Talking to a trained professional may help you feel less stressed or unhappy. Psychologists can also help you to develop coping strategies for memory problems.
Speech and language therapists can help you and your relatives communicate better if you are having difficulty using or understanding words. They can also help you with memory aids and strategies that use language.
Your local Alzheimer’s Society can help put you in touch with dementia advisers, dementia support workers, dementia cafés and support groups. They will all give helpful practical advice.
Speak to your local pharmacist if you need help to remember to take your drugs. If you have a local disability living centre (or similar) ask them for advice. They may have equipment to help you remember to take your drugs. You should be able to try things out and maybe even borrow some items for a while.
There are some structured approaches to help with memory loss and dementia. Ask professionals whether these are available in your area. Your GP, local Alzheimer’s Society staff, memory service or community mental health team can help.
In cognitive rehabilitation, a professional such as a psychologist, occupational therapist or speech and language therapist will work with you and someone close to you to help you achieve an agreed goal. It works by getting you to use the parts of your brain that are working to help the parts that are not.
Memory difficulties can impact on daily life in various ways and there are different things that you may want to change to make your life more enjoyable. This could be learning to use a mobile phone or re-learning a life skill such as cooking. You could change or adapt your environment to make coping with memory loss easier. Cognitive rehabilitation can help you to meet your goals and cope better with memory problems. It can also help you to think about the skills, abilities and knowledge you still have.
Cognitive stimulation therapy
Cognitive stimulation therapy (CST) aims to improve your mental abilities by keeping your brain active. This is done through a series of themed activity sessions carried out over several weeks. One session, for example, might involve doing word puzzles or talking about current affairs. Then in another session you could be playing an instrument along to music. CST also includes elements of reminiscence (see below).
After the first set of sessions, you may be offered maintenance CST (less frequent ‘top-up’ sessions) to keep the benefits going. There is evidence that approaches such as CST improve mental abilities and quality of life for people with dementia.
Life story work and reminiscence
Life story work is where you use a scrapbook, photo album or app on your mobile phone or tablet to remember and record details of your life. This could be your experiences, values or beliefs. Life story work is usually a joint activity for you and a family member, friend or support worker. Reminiscence involves talking about things from your past, using prompts such as photos, familiar objects or music. It can help you see your life as a whole and recognise your experiences and achievements.
Sometimes these approaches are combined using a memory box of favourite possessions or memorabilia. Many people find techniques like this helpful because they draw on your earlier memories, which you tend to retain for longer. By talking about who you are, it can help you and others to focus on yourself as someone with an interesting and varied life who still has skills and interests, rather than on your memory problems.