Talks about past and present but doesn't remember recent events (exception: some emotional memories)

  All Alzheimer's Symptoms

When it happens

Starts early in moderate-stage dementia (although the person begins to lose recent memory during mild-stage dementia)

Why it happens

The ability to capture, retain, and retrieve recent memories (from a few moments to a few days ago) is mostly lost. But longer-term memories tend to remain strong the longest. Also, memories of children, work, childhood, and other past events tend to be happy ones, and thinking about them can make someone with dementia feel good.

Through much of moderate dementia, people are still engaged with the present, so they may talk about current activities as well as past ones. But they can't "capture" these current activities as memories that will be called up tomorrow.

Emotional memories -- those connected to strong emotions, such as joy and grief -- can sometimes still be formed, and long-term emotional memories are also remembered longest. Emotional memories tend to be most vivid and detailed for everyone, regardless of memory impairment.

What you can do

  • Don't quiz the person to see what can be remembered, or berate him or her for forgetting something that happened yesterday.

  • Avoid the phrase, "Do you remember . . . " It can feel like pressure.

  • Indulge and encourage reminiscing.

  • Be patient while listening to repetitive stories. Ask follow-up or leading questions -- you might learn something new!

  • When looking through photo albums, it helps if there are names and dates under the photos.

  • Don't correct the person if it doesn't really matter.