Sometimes, forgetting where you’ve left your car keys can feel like you’re losing your mind, but most people quickly find them a few minutes later. For others however, memory loss is a far more debilitating problem, and it can affect both their own and others’ lives in a more serious way than just misplacing car keys.

The realisation that someone you love or someone close to you is showing signs of memory loss or dementia can be a difficult and emotional thing to come to terms with.

Psychogeriatrician from Vermont Street Specialists, Dr Jane Casey, says, “The diagnosis of a memory loss condition; cognitive impairment or dementia, can be a very stressful situation for family and loved ones. It may trigger overwhelming emotions such as anger, frustration and sadness. There may be a sense of uncertainty and fear about what lies ahead.”

Many think they understand what memory loss entails but it can manifest itself in ways that a lot of people are not aware of.

“Dementia affects people in different ways and usually the symptom of impaired memory can be more readily adapted to. It is the associated symptoms which are perhaps more challenging. These may include anxiety and agitation, depression and delusions, and changes in behaviour, habits or personality,” says Jane.

Jane understands that living with dementia is a process, and says there is no certain or right way to walk the journey, “We need to keep in mind that family and loved ones have their own unique relationship with the person with dementia and in turn will experience their own perspective and process.

“Families have their own history of relationships, roles and challenges that can affect how individuals react to a diagnosis and how members see their roles in providing care and support. We need to understand and respect this as we facilitate acceptance and strive to provide compassionate person-centred care,” she says.

Often family members and friends don’t know what they can do to help, and it is sometimes best to think about what that specific person might like or appreciate. Person-centred care recognises a person’s inherent value and dignity, respecting individual preferences and choices, while also supporting holistic well-being.

Jane suggests the following to those with a loved one who has a memory loss condition:

“Family and loved ones play a pivotal role by contributing personal knowledge and history which helps preserve personhood and enhance relationships. You may be able to provide information on the person’s life, their story, and their tendencies and preferences. Family may wish to be involved in specific activities that may be appropriate for their loved one, such as music, reminiscence, massage and exercise. For others however, it may be that doing an activity is not essential. Sometimes in this journey, the importance is in the ‘being’,” she says.

Thanks to Dr Jane Casey, and sites Mentalhealth.org.nz and Health.govt.nz