by Kristi King-Morgan, LMSW
This world is tough to navigate for someone with memory issues. When friends and family don’t understand what’s going on, it causes relationship issues. Forget a child’s ballgame or recital? The child gets upset and thinks you didn’t care enough to go. The other parent may also get upset and think you’re being neglectful or selfish. When this happens, not only are you, the sufferer, dealing with your own guilt over missing something important to your child, but now you’re having to deal with your family’s disappointment and accusations as well. Forget a birthday or anniversary? Forget something your spouse told you yesterday? If he or she reacts to this in anger and frustration, possibly making accusations, your self-esteem can plummet.
Work performance can suffer when someone is experiencing memory issues. They often make mistakes on the job which can lead to them getting fired. Though you are not required by law to disclose any diagnosis to your employer, some openness and honesty about your situation goes a long way. If coworkers know what’s going on with you, they can help pick up the slack. Your Human Resources department should also be made aware of any condition that may interfere with your performance at work. If they are aware that something is going on, it is possible that you could be transferred to a position that is easier to handle, be given a lighter workload, or have your hours reduced. Your job can work with you to an extent as long as they’re aware of what’s going on, although it’s not reasonable to expect them to always cover for you or excuse your mistakes. If you have an intermittent illness that affects your memory or performance, you can utilize FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) in some cases to take time off until your normal functioning returns. Plan ahead for if/when the time comes that you can no longer function at work and need to look into applying for disability.
Forgetting a doctor’s appointment can get you written down as a “no show” and there may be a charge for not giving them 24 hours’ notice. You can reschedule, but it may be weeks before your next appointment rolls around. That’s a long time to wait when you’re having issues affecting your daily life that need to be seen to. Even worse with specialists, it can often be months before you can get in to see them. If you miss too many appointments, they can “fire” you as a patient for noncompliance. They may label you as noncompliant for other reasons as well, such as forgetting to take your medication as prescribed. Maybe you accidentally take it too often because you forgot you already took it earlier. Maybe you forget to take it at all because you can’t remember if you already did or not. Maybe you forget to refill your prescriptions on time so you’re not able to take them for a few days until you can get to the pharmacy. When you give vague answers to your medical providers, it raises a red flag in their mind that something is off. You could find yourself mistakenly labeled as noncompliant, attention-seeking, drug-seeking, etc. It is extremely important for you to be as open and honest with your doctor as you can about your memory issues. You want them on your side, not working against you because of a misinterpretation of your actions.
Find a support group! There are others out there who are going through the same thing as you, or something similar. It helps to talk to people who understand what you’re going through. You may not get validation and support from those closest to you, but you can get it from people in similar situations. They may also have some tips and tricks for you that helped them deal with their symptoms.
It can sometimes be a sign of something else going on with your body. Memory loss doesn’t usually happen on its own, especially in younger people. Elderly dementia happens, of course, but most of the time there’s something else going on, the memory issues simply a symptom of a larger problem. There are many mental health and physical health issues that can lead to brain fog, memory loss, and decrease in cognitive function, either permanently or intermittently. Getting officially diagnosed and receiving proper treatment can greatly improve all symptoms of your illness, not just the memory issues. Unfortunately, many individuals go for years without a diagnosis, so be your own advocate and don’t give up on getting to the bottom of your health issues. Enlist someone you trust who can help you remember your appointments, write down your symptoms, and go to appointments with you. Forgetting to tell the doctor some of your symptoms makes it that much harder for him or her to come to a proper diagnosis.
Be prepared at all times. Wear a medical alert bracelet or carry a card in your purse or wallet. Keep a list of all medications and be sure that list is current. If you have intermittent memory loss, or intermittent difficulty with speech, this should be written down and kept in a place that emergency personnel can easily find. If you’re unable to tell them what your allergies are, what medications you’re on, or what your medical diagnosis is, there is a risk of emergency personnel giving you something harmful. Therefore, it is important for them to be able to look at your bracelet or a card in your wallet to get this information in case you’re unable to tell them. Keep your emergency contacts listed and up to date as well.
Plan for long-term care before you need it. Don’t leave that decision up to your loved ones to make. Too many people wait until it’s too late to make any plans. Choose a person that you trust to make decisions for you and designate them your Power of Attorney for when the time comes that you need someone else to be your decision maker. Tell them while you still are of sound mind what your wishes are so they can carry them out on your behalf. Your family may not want to talk about things like this so you may have to be the one to bring it up. Their emotional burden will be eased if they have your help making plans while you still are able.