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Tips: When You Notice That A Friend Has Memory Loss
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, February 2011

It can be extremely challenging when you realize that a good friend experiences memory loss. Yet it is essential to remain connected and maintain social contact because people who don't have social contact with family and friends are at higher risk for memory problems than people who have strong social ties.

At this time, perhaps more than ever before, you need to be a supportive, present, non-judgmental friend. Take good care of yourself AND allow yourself to appreciate the changes in your friend. Hang on to what you have with this person and focus on that which still exists instead of that which is lost. Help him or her to feel secure and safe. In your actions and in your conversation, be conscious of preserving their dignity and respect. Be present.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

Social Interaction - Encourage your friend to join a book club with you. Or, if you have known one another for a long time, initiate the reconnection with other old friends, Being with other people in meaningful ways helps keep them connected and "sharp"!

Do Things That You Have Enjoyed and Continue to Enjoy - This helps your friend know that they and their presence are valuable to you and that there are things you do that are uniquely yours. Remind them (and yourself) of the good times and fun you have had and continue to have. So walk in the woods, go to a dance class, or watch a movie. Slow the pace if you need to maximize the chance to process and enjoy what you do together.

Incorporate Music - Most people who have memory issues retain their appreciation and love of music for a VERY long time and can get great joy from listening to and singing songs they enjoyed throughout their lifetime. Join with them and encourage them to attend musical performances, and listen to music from when they were younger, and relate stories about concerts or musicians they enjoyed.

Engage With Your Friend Through Exercise - Take a walk, a hike, a bike ride, go to the gym, swim, or do something physically active because regular exercise gets more oxygen to the brain. (It also reduces the risk for disorders that lead to memory loss, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.) Try a new type of exercise. If your friend is used to the same old "dance" sign up for a Zumba class with a hot Latin rhythm. Be aware that there is much talk about exercise enhancing helpful brain chemicals that protect brain cells, so keep moving together.

Eat Right - If you go out to eat or prepare a meal together be sure you are having plenty of fresh (and hopefully local and organic) fruits and vegetables, whole grains and "healthy" fats because antioxidants keep the brain cells "working," and B vitamins protect and help reduce risk of cardiovascular diseases. Avoiding saturated fats and trans fats help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of stroke.

Help Your Friend to Structure Their Environment - Don't come in like gangbusters but gently encourage them to use calendars and clocks, lists and notes. Write down daily activities on a planner or use an electric organizer. Suggest that they keep easy-to-lose items in the same place each time after using them. Propose that they park their car in the same place at the office or the parking lot at the gym or library or market each day.

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