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What to do when a friend has memory loss

Has a friend gotten forgetful? Psychologist Dale Atkins offers six tips for coping when a friend has memory loss: listen to music together, take a walk... and stay connected.
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It can be extremely challenging when you realize a good friend has memory loss. It's a common problem — one study estimates that 40 percent of adults over 50 have what's called age-related memory loss.

It is essential to remain connected, because people who don't have contact with family and friends are at higher risk for memory problems than people who have strong social ties. It is also essential to take care of yourself and allow yourself to process the changes. Pay attention to what you have with your friend; focus on what still exists instead of what is lost.So what can you do as a friend of someone who is having memory issues?

  • Encourage your friend to join a book club with you. If you have known one another for a long time, initiate reconnection with other old friends. Being with other people in meaningful ways helps keep her "sharp."
  • Do things that you have enjoyed and continue to enjoy. This helps your friend know that she is valuable to you and there are things that are uniquely "yours" together.  Remind her (and yourself) of the good times and fun you have had and continue to have. Laugh as often as you can. Slow the pace so you can maximize the opportunity to process and enjoy what you do together.
  • Incorporate music. Most people who have memory issues retain their appreciation of music for a VERY long time and get great joy from listening to and singing songs they enjoyed throughout their life. Join your friend and encourage her to attend musical performances, and listen to the music they enjoyed when she was younger. Relate stories about concerts or musicians she enjoyed.
  • Engage with your friend through exercise and healthy eating. Take a walk, a hike, go bike riding, go to the gym or swim; do something active, because regular exercise gets more oxygen to the brain. (It also reduces the risk for disorders that lead to memory loss, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.) When you eat together, be sure to have lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and "healthy" fats; antioxidants keep the brain cells "working" and B vitamins help reduce risk of cardiovascular diseases. Avoid saturated fats and trans fats.
  • When it comes to memory, it's "use it or lose it." Just as physical exercise can make and keep your body stronger, mental exercise can make your brain work better. Join your friend in strategy games such as chess, bridge or Scrabble. Talk about what is going on in the world; share magazines and newspaper articles. Take a class together. Do a project together that involves planning, designing and following through, such as planting a garden, organizing a book drive or making a quilt. Figure out memory tricks together with your friend. To help your friend remember a person's name, have her repeat it aloud several times after being introduced. Don't go over the wrong information because it interferes with the right-word retrieval. Encourage your friend to keep trying to remember. Suggest that they go through the alphabet to retrieve what they are trying to remember.
  • Encourage your friend to focus her attention and structure her environment. Forgetfulness may indicate that she has too much on their mind. Getting enough good sleep, slowing down, and focusing on the task at hand is helpful and you can encourage your friend to do just that. Multitasking and not paying attention are some of the biggest causes of forgetfulness, especially in younger people. Encourage your friend to use calendars and clocks, lists and notes, and write down daily activities on a planner or use an electric organizer. Suggest that she keep easy-to-lose items in the same place each time after using them. Propose that she park her car in the same place at the office, gym or library each day.

. is a licensed psychologist with more than 25 years of experience as a relationship expert, focusing on families, couples, parenting, aging well, managing stress and maintaining balance in one's life. Dr. Atkins has a private practice in New York City