Elderly mother's forgetfulness

by Diane

My problem is in dealing with my mother's forgetfulness, which is growing worse as she gets older (she's 85). The problem is that she refuses to do any of the steps you explain about reducing forgetfulness, and she has a very negative attitude about it.

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Whatever I say seems to make her more angry and frustrated. This is a real issue because she's moving next door to us so we can help care for her.

Can you give me any tips for keeping my own sanity and sense of well-being when I talk to her, if I can't help her?

Doug's Reply: The best and only way to keep your sanity when dealing with anyone is to remember you are responsible only for your own actions, not theirs.

I do have suggestions on how to strengthen your mother's mental capabilities without her perhaps realizing it.

1. Stop talking about forgetfulness and "memory loss". She may be afraid of "going senile" which puts her on the defensive.

2. Arrange her environment so that she has less to remember. Find ways to automate all of her routines.


- Hang a rack or bowl by her front door where she can put her keys;

- Organize her pantry and refrigerator, and always put her groceries in the same spot on the shelf

- Organize her clothes closet similarly (certain clothes in same spot on rack every time)

- Pick a specific time that you will always come by each day, and stick to it

- Pick specific days of the week for certain activities (shopping, laundry, etc)

- Anything else you can think of to make a habit out of even the smallest routine

Make her daily activities as automatic and unconscious as possible. The power of habit can often compensate for a faltering memory.

Talk to her in terms of "making the house cozy", "staying organized", etc. Do not mention "memory improvement", "senility", or anything like that. She might be okay with the term "reminders" though - try it and see.

3. Involve her in activities that improve brain function but don't seem like "memory improvement".

For example, play checkers or cards with her regularly. I wouldn't just give her a crossword puzzles book, unless you're sure she would use it.

Read to her often, or have her read to you. Say it's because you want to spend more time with her or because you found a great book you want to share.
Then discuss what you read.

Have conversations with her frequently about current events. Mention as many specific details as you can (names, places, etc.)

Assuming she can travel safely, take her with you to experience things around your town. Museums, public events, to the park, whatever you can think of. Not to "keep her mind sharp", but because you want her companionship, need her help, etc.

If she has any hobbies (knitting, reading, crosswords, gardening, scrapbooking, whatever), do everything to enable her. If she can't garden because she doesn't have the supplies, bend over backwards to get it for her.

The old adage, "Use it or lose it" is as true of memory as any other skill. Anything you can think of that will get her to use her thinking ability and memory will help her hold on to her brain function a little bit longer.

4. Make sure she gets regular physical activity. The brain thrives on oxygen and other nutrients in the bloodstream. The best way to preserve (and even enhance) cardiovascular fitness is through physical activity.

You should consult with her doctor, but I would imagine that walking might be appropriate. Tell her you have decided to start walking several times per week and you want her company. Walk around your neighborhood, a park, or a mall for 20 minutes or whatever is comfortable. Don't say anything about memory improvement regarding this either.

5. Monitor her diet. Dehydration and vitamin deficiencies can affect memory. When you shop for her, steer her to a variety of foods, and healthy foods. If her doctor agrees, have her take a daily multi-vitamin for seniors (and tell her it's to keep her bones strong, which is true).

Determine whether she is drinking enough water, and try to slip more of the so-called "brain foods" (asparagus, salmon, blueberries, etc.) into her meals. Have her over to your house for dinner once or twice a week and fix those types of foods.

Your mother needs you at the end stage in her life, and you have decided to be there for her. I think that is noble and wonderful. Just keep in mind that you are a good person doing a good thing, and your mother's forgetfulness and crankiness will hopefully not bother you as much.

Best regards,
This is information only. It is not medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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Apr 14, 2010
thank you
by: Diane

Thanks so much for taking the time to reply. I think your advice will be very helpful.


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