Critter Corner: How is it Possible for People with Alzheimer’s to Remember Their Past So Well?

Dear Magic,
 
My grandpa, Steve, is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Recently a friend that he grew up with came to visit. They told stories and shared memories of when my grandpa was a teenager. He remembered some of them vividly and was even able to recall the name of his dog. Yet, he forgets something that happened an hour ago. How can people with Alzheimer’s remember the distant past so well, but forget things that happened moments earlier?
 
Thanks for your help!
Rhee Membring
—-
Dear Rhee,
Similar to your grandfather, it is common for people with Alzheimer’s disease to have trouble remembering how they spent their morning, but still be able to recall memories of their childhood. Sometimes they may even confuse caregivers for their parents or other people from their past.
Why Does This Happen? 
Remembering past memories while forgetting more recent ones is a result of how memory is stored. Alzheimer’s disease is known to attack the area of the brain called the hippocampus. This part of the brain is largely known for learning and making memories. A properly functioning hippocampus is required for retrieving data on current events, the contents of our closets, and what we had for lunch that day. Memories that stretch into one’s past are typically housed in other parts of the brain outside the hippocampus, in the neocortex — which spares them from the disease’s initial blows and enables people with Alzheimer’s to still recall some distant memories.
Helping Your Grandfather Preserve Memories
People living with Alzheimer’s disease may hold on to old memories for some time after the onset of the disease. Sadly, Alzheimer’s disease gradually takes these memories too. You can help your grandfather manage the onset of memory loss by helping him to preserve his memories.
Memories can be preserved in many ways. You can:
-Keep an electronic or online folder with photos and mementos from his life, including photos of family members.
-Write down descriptions of important events in his life.
-Create a scrapbook or special box with photos, newspaper clippings, letters, postcards, greeting cards, sketches, poetry and musical verses.
-Interview your grandfather and make a video or audio recording of him recollecting his personal stories.
-Every picture tells a story. Find some meaningful photos and with the help of your grandfather and other family members, write a caption for each photo. Include the names of anyone in the picture and the date, if possible.
Please note that to accomplish all of the above tasks and much more, you can use the award-winning LegacyStories.org website and companion mobile app that were developed exactly for this purpose. We make this program available to all of our clients and readers of our newsletter at no cost. Please click here for more information and to get started.
As your grandfather’s memory worsens over time, bring the photos and mementos out and share them with him. Perhaps you can enjoy reminiscing and jog those happy memories once again.
Hope this is helpful,
Magic
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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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