Dementia is a complicated condition that causes pain and frustration to everyone it involves. The person experiencing dementia will often become disoriented and confused, which frequently turns to anger toward their inability to remember information that once came easily. Their family members, loved ones, and dedicated caregivers will feel similar frustration and helplessness, watching someone they care about struggle.
There are many aspects of dementia that are relatively well-understood by most medical professionals, and the way it impacts memory tends to be similar across most cases. One’s experience with dementia will depend on specific lifestyle aspects, genetic factors, and how much their condition has progressed, but most people with dementia will experience a first-in, last-out style of memory loss.
What Is the First-In, Last-Out Dementia Theory?
Most people comprehend that dementia affects a person’s ability to recall memories or create new ones, but the first-in, last-out dementia theory may be less well-known. It is a concept that refers to the way in which dementia tends to affect memory.
Dementia does not usually affect all memories equally. Instead, the condition primarily attacks more recent memories, such as short-term memories from day-to-day life or deeper memories formed within the last few years. What this means is that a person with dementia may not be able to remember what they ate yesterday or a person they met last week, but they may be able to recall memories from their early adulthood or childhood with relative ease.
Even though first-in, last-out dementia theory is well-accepted in the field, it doesn’t mean that people experiencing dementia will retain their oldest memories forever. Some retain early memories until the end of their lives, whereas others lose track of their earlier memories right alongside their newest ones.
In all likelihood, however, early memories will be the last to become inaccessible, and they may only do so once a person’s dementia has advanced into its late stages.
How Memories Are Stored in the Brain
There is a medical reason why memory retention tends to follow a first-in, last-out model in people suffering from dementia. Newer memories are usually stored in a part of the brain called the hippocampus, while older memories are generally recalled from the frontal, lateral, and parietal-temporal lobes of the brain. Once new memories are encoded in the hippocampus, they are sent to different parts of the brain for long-term storage.
Dementia specifically targets the hippocampus and causes it to atrophy. In fact, some people that experience dementia or Alzheimer’s disease will show hippocampal atrophy of up to 30% in volume within the first few years of their condition.
That’s why newer memories and short-term memories are the first to be forgotten, but memories that have been “in storage” for much longer are usually left untouched at first. However, this pattern can change as the disease progresses.
Best Ways for Caregivers to Cope
No matter what your loved one’s experience with dementia has been, caring for someone suffering from such a condition is never easy, especially if you knew them well when they were healthy. However, there are some steps you can take to make the experience smoother for both of you and even help your loved one manage their condition.
People with dementia tend to feel their best when they keep a regular routine each day, as the familiarity of a daily schedule will help your family member keep track of their lifestyle and encourage positive moods. However, it’s still important to retain some flexibility in their schedule to cater to the specific physical and emotional needs of your loved one on a given day.
Additionally, keeping up a self-care routine of your own as a dementia caregiver is crucial. There will be good days, where caring for your loved one seems to be easy and doable, but there will also undoubtedly be bad days, where you’ll have to prioritize your own care just as much as you prioritize the well-being of your loved one. Make sure that you schedule activities and routines that will help support your mental and physical health so that you can still feel your best as you provide care.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.