• Jenni Perkins

Living at home with short term memory loss

My 92 year old mother has lived on her own for the past seven years, despite having significant short term memory loss (her comment is that “her brain is full”). Her memory loss is profound:

  • the other day she asked, almost ten minutes after finishing her meal, "have we had lunch yet?"

  • despite having the same support worker come to visit for over five years, she still does not remember who she is until she sees her

  • when asked if she has seen anyone recently, she will reply she hasn’t seen anyone for weeks (despite having had a visitor that morning)

  • regularly misplacing her handbag, and forgetting what it looks like or forgetting within a minute what she is looking for

  • hanging up the telephone and forgetting who she was talking to

  • when going to an appointment or going out, asking every five minutes – “what are we here for?”; “where are we going?”

  • remembering the pin number for her bank card – but having to be reminded each time how to use the teller machine.

Key to my mother continuing to live safely at home has been a combination of long term engrained routines and the introduction of some new systems

  • maintaining a daily diary – now an A4 week to two pages in which everyone writes in what has happened that day, including my mother who continues her long term tradition of writing down when she has taken her tablets, the time she got up in the morning, along with a comment on the weather

  • introducing tablets in a blister pack from the chemist

  • the introduction of a digital clock and calendar positioned where my mother can see it from her kitchen table (others may find an analogue clock is more familiar)

  • an old magnetic calendar on the wall which my mother routinely changes every day (as she has done for the past 15 years or so)

  • continuing delivery of the daily newspaper (despite my mother saying at different times she doesn’t need it) – which my mother will read frequently during the day, having forgotten she has already read it, checking the death notices; reading the stars; attempting the crossword – and using it to remind herself what day it is

  • writing a sign or note in large writing easily read as a reminder – more recently this has included a sign on the front and back door reminding her not to go outside on her own in case she falls

  • a list of key names and phone numbers in large print by the phone (this could be enhanced with pictures)

  • a notice in large print pinned up where my mother can see it from the kitchen table, briefly outlining where/what key family members are doing.

My mother uses the electronic clock and calendar, daily paper and diary as a way of ‘triaging’ what day it is. Similarly, she checks both her diary and the tablet blister pack to confirm with herself that she has taken her tablets.