Understanding Memory Problems and How to Deal With Them

Memory difficulties are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease most frequently discussed by, and most distressing to, those with a loved one so afflicted. It is generally assumed that nothing can be done with an elder person’s memory difficulties, but that is incorrect! Sound knowledge of how memories are built, changed and used, as part of a person’s diverse behaviors, reveals that there are ways of compensating, to some degree, for memory limitations as there are for other kinds of limitations associated with aging. We all have memory difficulties.

For example, after a professional meeting in New York City I decided to buy my wife a little gift. As I was going up an escalator in a store a man going down waved as he passed by. He looked vaguely familiar but I couldn’t think who he might be. More on this later.

Because of the fundamental importance of memory problems in Alzheimer’s and other illnesses, I have decided to try to help readers understand the nature of how memory works, what I refer to as memory processes. We can then learn together how they dysfunction and produce memory problems for people, and how caregivers might develop ways to help deal with such problems. But memories cannot be understood as a separate part of a person. They result from experiences generated by a person’s activities interacting with their current situations. A person’s activities form patterns over time (what I will refer to as memory patterns) that are influenced by particular situations at particular places and times, or contexts. We must first understand these general activity patterns. Then we can focus on how memory processes are created from and operate within them. I will explain memory processes in four interrelated posts.

  1. How do ones activity pattern experiences produce memories?
  2. How are memory patterns constructed, retained and elaborated?
  3. What is the relationship of words to memories?
  4. How are old memories reactivated for current use? 
  5. Using knowledge of memory processes to deal with memory difficulties.

Each will tell a part of the story. Together they will explain how memory processes enable a person to function in a specific context helping us better understand different types of memory difficulties.

Oh yes, I finally remembered the man I saw on the escalator. He was my boss – President of Penn State. I had worked with him for years – Why didn’t I remember him? My oldest sister (a long time nurse) said “You must have sprained a muscle in your brain.” After you finish reading these four posts I hope you will be able to understand the situation I experienced as well as many other kinds of memory difficulties. Future posts will normally be provided on Fridays. I look forward to our future discussions.

2 thoughts on “Understanding Memory Problems and How to Deal With Them

  1. This book is an amazing story of two people deeply in love. A look at how we should approach the care of our loved ones. As a caregiver, I have experienced multiple facilities approach to the care of those clients in a geriatric facility. Most being an institutionalized atmosphere with little regard to the actual identity, passions and personality of those being cared for. I have had the great pleasure of caring for Carol under Dons designed program. And I can tell you, there is no doubt in my mind that Carol would have no way had the progress and care anywhere else.
    To see the advantage of this approach was proof to me that those suffering from dementia and alzheimer’s have much more capability in the right environment. The responses and interactions that Carol displayed was nothing short of proof to there being only one way in my mind for me to care for those clients.
    It was truly a life changing experience for me, that I will carry with me to care for those in the health care industry. This is a must read for anyone in the medical field whether being home health care givers, nurses in facilities, and physicians alike. And especially anyone that is a nursing student entering the nursing field.
    Tim Wilson, EMT, Nurse

  2. Don,
    I remember Carol so vividly, and I don’t remember most of our other
    sorority sisters. She was one of the sweetest women I’ve ever known.

    I’m very curious about my own memory. I quit my practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist because, after seeing thousands of people, especially when I was in the counseling center at Rutgers, I began to find that I didn’t remember the names the clients I was currently seeing sometimes. However after 18 years of retirement I took on the job of membership chair in my Unitarian Church and I can quickly recall about 130 names of our members when I see them on Sunday or even run into them in town. I don’t understand that.

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