Coping with Memory Loss in Social Situations
When Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) affects memory, the person with MCI may find themselves feeling embarrassed by their memory lapses. This can be particularly true when interacting in social situations with friends or acquaintances who do not know about the MCI diagnosis. Often times, MCI is a difficult diagnosis to share with others, and the person with MCI fears that others will notice their memory difficulty and jump to conclusions or even gossip about it. He or she may wonder “what if I repeat myself?” Or “what if I do not remember someone's name or where I met them?” Anxiety about potentially embarrassing situations may lead the person with MCI to avoid such gatherings altogether. This in turn can lead to feeling isolated, lonely, and even depressed.
Instead of withdrawing or limiting your social outings, consider the following strategies:
Write it Down!
- Keep a list of friends and frequently encountered acquaintances in the back of your notebook. Jot down a few notes about the person and review the entry before a social event. For example, an entry might read “Bill and Linda Taylor: Members of our church. Bill is a retired football coach. He loves the Packers. Linda was our daughter’s teacher in 4th grade.” If the social event is small, such as dinner with friends, it may help to make some notes on the day of the event about topics you plan to discuss. If you are comfortable in this small group, and they know about your memory loss, keep this sheet of paper in your pocket to refer to at dinner. For example, “ask Bill about his grandson who just got a football scholarship to college.”
- For our HABIT graduates – Put these tips in your memory notebook!
- Ask a loved one to help you prepare for social events by reviewing a few photos prior to the event of people likely to attend, and talking a bit about them.
What's the Name?
- No name? No problem.
- If you cannot remember someone’s name, that’s okay. Instead of using their name, talk about something you do remember about them. That lets your friend know you are still interested and care, even if you can’t think of their name.
- Spouse in the ear
- Stick together at the social event, and ask your spouse for cues, such as “there is Frank Thompson in the blue polo shirt. He lived across the street from us back when we were in our old house.
- Ask your spouse to start conversations at the party by stating the person’s name and something about them to give you a clue. “Hi Frank! How was your visit with your new baby granddaughter last weekend?”
Keep it Small
- The larger the group or event, the more overwhelming it can be and more difficult to prepare for. When possible, schedule activities with friends and make the gathering more intimate, perhaps only 1 other couple. This helps limit you having to keep track of multiple people and multiple conversations.
- A long evening of conversation and small talk can be intimidating for a person with memory difficulty. Consider planning your next get together around in activity that does not rely on memory. Could you go for a hike? How about bowling? Attend a symphony performance or other musical event? Take a painting class? Play the card game you love?
- In conversation, talk about old stories or past activities/events you still remember well, rather than current events.
- Especially for larger events such as parties with multiple acquaintances and strangers, it can be wise to limit your time and simply “make an appearance” by popping in for 30-60 minutes, sticking together, and saying hello to the people you know.
Be up Front
- It can be a relief to let your closest friends know about the diagnosis of MCI. Chances are, they will have already noticed the memory difficulty, and be concerned. Letting them in on what's going on can make it easier for the person with MCI to simply be upfront and say “can you remind me?” or take a minute to look at your notes.
These are just a few simple suggestions to get you started. You will learn best what works for you through trial and error.