October 1, 2015

Making Lists: Caregiver Stress and Short Term Memory Loss

By Pamela Spahr, Contributing Writer | The Caregiver How Stress Affects Memory

I don’t admit this to very many people, but I am getting more forgetful. Nowadays, I have to make lists.

Memory trouble after a loved one’s trauma

When my husband Bob had a series of strokes three years ago, my short-term memory was trashed. I could not remember what I was supposed to do, or if I did, I couldn’t remember when it was supposed to be done.

For several months, I felt like my mind was disconnected from my body even when I tried to concentrate on what I needed to do. Then there were times when I simply forgot about a meeting, an appointment or an important telephone call. I was useless at work. I would forget things people told me almost immediately.

Big life changes can disrupt brain patterns

I could not understand what was happening to me until I read that when people face huge changes in their lives, their brain patterns often change. Gradually, my mind fog began to clear; I was able to remember most of my appointments and meetings.

Because my memory wasn’t always reliable, I began to keep lists. First, I tried making them on odd scraps of paper, but — you guessed it — those proved easy to lose. My next stab at lists took me to several composition notebooks. However, I kept forgetting to take a notebook along when I went out somewhere. Now, I try to keep everything on Google calendar. This method is better, but not perfect, since I don’t always look at my computer first thing in the morning.

Stress can cause problems with concentration and short-term memory

Stress can affect memory, especially for seniors. When Bob went into hospice, my short-term memory went back to being quite unreliable. My current memory has holes like Swiss cheese. Sometimes it’s right on and I remember everything. Other times, I forget it all.

When I spoke to a friend who lost her husband two months ago, she admitted that she cannot concentrate at all. She has to stop all the time and refocus on what she is doing.  She and I are in very similar situations. We are both very stressed. She has all of the post-death stuff to take care of, and I am taking care of my husband of 46 years who is in hospice.

Short term memory loss is not dementia

I wanted to reassure myself that I was not getting dementia, so I looked up information about temporary short-term memory loss. My research confirmed that stress and anxiety are a major cause of this type of problem.

Short-term memory loss can come and go quickly, stay around for a while and then go away, or it can be permanent. Armed with knowledge, self-care, and a willingness to seek my doctor’s advice, I’m doing my day-to-day best for now.

Pamela Spahr, the founder of Inspired Caregivers and the author of the eBook, “Caregivers Survival Toolkit,” is an expert in behavioral and emotional techniques designed specifically for caregivers to those with cognitive impairment. She coaches caregivers and teaches her techniques to family and professional caregivers around the United States.

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