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Memory Loss and Aging
By Deborah S. Allen, MSW, CDP

1. What is the difference between Dementia and Alzheimer’s?
Dementia is a broad term that describes illnesses or conditions that result in irreversible brain failure/brain death.  Over 80 different conditions can lead to brain failure/brain death.  The most common causes of dementia include: vascular accidents (strokes), Parkinson’s disease, Lewy Body dementia, Frontal temporal dementia, mixed dementias and Alzheimer’s disease.  Treatment of these varying conditions is not uniform, but depends upon the cause, medical conditions, and the individual.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common and well-known cause of dementia.  Approximately
60% - 80% of individuals diagnosed with dementia have dementia from Alzheimer’s disease.

2. What is the difference between normal memory loss and Dementia-related memory loss?
Primary differences are:

With Normal/Age-related Memory Loss, the individual:

  • Is not disabled.
  • Functions well with work, activities, relationships, hobbies.
  • Makes an occasional poor decision or mistake.
  • Forgets words, but continues to hold conversations.
  • Functions independently.
  • Uses recall and describes incidents of forgetfulness.
  • Exercises normal judgment and decision-making abilities.

With Memory Loss from Dementia, the Individual:

  • Has disabling declines in two or more areas, including: memory, language, judgment, abstract thinking, recall, learning and reasoning.
  • Experiences disruptions in work, activities, and relationships.
  • Has difficulties performing routine tasks.
  • Regularly repeats words and stories.
  • Displays poor judgment and/or inappropriate behaviors.

3. What are some Examples of Normal Memory Loss in Older Adults?

  • Forgetting dates and names, but often remembering them later.  Usually, efforts are made to find the missing information. 
  • Losing or misplacing things, but makes efforts to locate them. 
  • Forgetting a key word or phrase, but finding other ways to express him/herself.

4. What impact does Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) have on memory?

  • MCI for some persons is the stage between the expected decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia-related memory loss.
  • Persons with MCI may forget key appointments or events.
  • Written or verbal information may be forgotten.
  • Not all persons with MCI develop dementia.

5. What are Some Effective Ways to Communicate with Individuals with Dementia?

  • Treating the individual with dignity and respect.
  • Communicating as one adult with another adult.
  • Re-directing the individual to something positive.
  • Using gentle touch, smiles, gestures, & a friendly voice tone.
  • Giving genuine compliments.
  • Limiting choices to two.
  • Explaining to the individual what you are doing, or what you are going to do.
  • Using short, simple sentences, with the most important word LAST.
  • Being “in their reality”.
  • Providing the individual ample time to respond.
  • Never interrupting or asking detailed questions.
  • Cueing the individual with topic reminders. 
  • Initiating conversations with “Tell me about….”, “I’m interested in knowing….”.
  • Never arguing or correcting.
  • Never saying: “Remember”, “I already told you.”, “You can’t.”
  • Knowing the individual, His/her interests, and abilities.

6. How can caregivers improve their skills to positively engage with individuals with Dementia?

  • Using positive communication skills.
  • Being patient with both the individual and themselves.
  • Never personalizing negative comments or behaviors.
  • Remembering that negative comments and behaviors are the result of the individual’s disease/condition.
  • Taking breaks.
  • Requesting help from family and friends.
  • Obtaining professional help from day programs, in-home care, or placement.
  • Giving yourself credit!

PennCares (formerly UCP of South-Central PA) has grown from a small local chapter of UCP to a regional leader for resources, advocacy, and services for individuals with a broad range of intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities and their families throughout south central Pennsylvania.

We also provide educational, professional hot topic trainings throughout the entire Commonwealth. Prior to COVID-19, we were conducting our trainings on site at many assisted living facilities. When the pandemic hit, we maneuvered our trainings to webinars with our zoom platform. Many of our trainings focus on cognitive issues, dementia, hoarding, grandparents raising grandchildren, and caring for the caregiver just to name a few. One of our most popular trainings is our simulation training-Dementia Live. Check out website for our current training offerings at www.PennCares.org.

Our upcoming trainings include:

  • 6/8/21 and 6/22/21 from 10 - 11:30 am - Self-Care: Body, Mind, & Spirit.
  • 6/15/21 from 10am-noon-Coping with Change and Loss: The Impact of COVID-19, Focusing on Social Isolation in Older Adults
  • 7/15/21 and 8/23/21 from 10 -11:30 am is Cultural & Linguistic Competency.
  • 7/27/21 from 10 - 11:30 am One Team/One Mission-Learning to Work Together After COVID-19
  • 8/12/21 and 9/21/21 - Transitioning: Preparing for a Change training.
  • 8/24/21 from 10 - 11:30 am is Education: Classroom and Beyond
  • 10/14/21 and 12/14/21 from 10 - 11:30 is Trauma Informed Care Parenting trainings

Deborah Allen is the Executive Director of PennCares. She is a Certificated Dementia Practitioner and a  Certified Master Trainer for AGE u Cate Training Institute and conducts Compassionate Touch and Dementia Live trainings monthly to audiences of caregivers, professionals, AAA’s, D&A facilities, and family members.



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