I’ve written before about cognitive rehabilitation for people with memory loss. Researchers at the University of Miami are conducting clinical trials in this area, and people like Morris Friedell are conducting their own informal programs. Paul Whitby, a clinical psychologist working in the National Health Service in England, has been teaching a memory rehabilitation class for professionals for several years now.
“I reckon that a lot of our nurses still think that if somebody has dementia then there is no point telling them anything because they won't remember it,” he says. “I try to work on the notion that if you have dementia (or any other memory problem), then there is all the more need to put a bit more effort into telling you things carefully and in a way that will stick (Spaced Retrieval) and making important information obvious, ready to hand and easy to use (calendars, notebooks).”
Paul has put together a Memory Book of practical ideas to encourage people with memory loss and their care partners to try rehabilitation. The booklet also has tips on coping mechanisms.
“I have been working with older adults for about 20 years now,” he says. “The idea for the “Memory Book” grew out of some notes I provided for some teaching that I did for our clinical staff. It struck me that there are some very practical things that can be done to help with memory loss but there was no one source of simple, straightforward advice.”
Not all sections of the booklet will apply to any one person, so readers should try the ideas most suited to their situations. In addition, care partners should be sensitive when attempting to use the Spaced Retrieval technique described in the booklet. “I was not very clear about one aspect of Spaced Retrieval,” says Paul. “It is really important to say it can run the risk of becoming a bit of a nag! This has to be guarded against.”
He thinks some people with mild memory loss may be able to use the Spaced Retrieval technique on their own. “They would set up the bit of information, maybe write it on a piece of paper, and do the recall thing at increasing intervals, possibly using a timer,” he says. “Clearly this takes some degree of cognitive control and effort, so I would not expect people with serious problems, especially attention problems, to be able to use it themselves.”
Why use the ideas in “The Memory Booklet” when so many software programs and gadgets are available for people with memory loss? Paul thinks we’re too focused on technology. “A lot of our therapists are getting diverted by Assistive Technology, which can be very useful I agree, but it rather lacks the human touch,” he says.
Note to American readers: The word “diary” in “The Memory Booklet” is used to mean calendar.