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Ask Lisi: Family wants to help aunt who has memory loss

My aunt is losing her memory and we are having trouble figuring it out. What should we be doing to help her?
Advice columnist Lisi Tesher.

Dear Lisi: My aunt is losing her memory and we are having trouble figuring it out. She and my uncle split up years ago, and he subsequently passed away, so she’s alone. They never had children so my sister and I are her family.

We invite her to everything, include her in everything, and take care of her when need be. Recently, she was invited to my sister’s for a celebratory family dinner. My sister asked if she wanted to be picked up, but she said she would walk. She’s physically very fit and loves to walk.

She’s usually early, so we were surprised when she hadn’t arrived by the time dinner was called, especially since everyone else was present. My husband called her, and she was at home, with no recollection of the dinner or it’s invitation. She apologized profusely; said she could be ready quickly if someone would pick her up.

The next morning my sister got a call from my aunt’s dentist (happens to be a friend of hers) that my aunt hadn’t shown up for her appointment. My sister called, again our aunt apologized, and luckily, I was able to pick her up and drive her over.

What should we be doing to help her so we’re not getting stuck in a last-minute situation?

Forgetful but family

It may be time for your aunt to see her doctor and have a check-up. You didn’t mention her age, but I’m surmising that she’s a senior. Our brain is an organ and like all vital organs it begins to lose some function as we age. There are things one can do to stave off memory loss, including sufficient sleep, exercise and proper nutrition.

But once you notice that your aunt is having trouble, it’s time to implement other helpful aids. For example, is she adept with her phone? You could put reminders in her calendar with notifications. Does she use a desk/wall calendar? Help her keep it updated or start her using one.

As well, it’s time for you and your sister (and any other helpful family member) to divide up the responsibility. For example, since your sister is connected to her dentist, let her be the one to oversee her dental care. Someone else take on medical; another person her bills; etc.

Unfortunately, as people age, they usually don’t become more self-sufficient; rather, less. Better to get organized now, incorporating her care into your life, because inevitably the burden (I don’t mean that negatively) will just become greater.

Dear Lisi: My wife lost her mother, and then six months later, her father passed away. She is so stricken by grief, she is inconsolable. She walks around in a daze, oblivious to her surroundings. She took a leave of absence from work about two months before her mom passed to care for her. It’s coming up on 18 months now and I don’t know if she’ll ever go back.

Fortunately, it’s not about the money. She is an only child and her parents had a decent sized estate. But I’m concerned with her attachment to the immediate present. I feel that going back to work would help her focus on herself, her own physical and mental health, our marriage, our children and our dog.

Nothing my kids and I do or say seems to be getting through to her right now. We don’t begrudge her immense sadness; we just want our wife/mother back. How can we bring her back to the land of the living?

Lost in grief

Your wife needs professional help, starting with grief counselling. I don’t have the expertise to officially diagnose, but she sounds depressed. Support her but get her the help she needs. Be patient and loving. She’ll come back.

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Lisi Tesher is an advice columnist for the Star based in Toronto. Send your relationship questions via email: [email protected].