A survey conducted by the Alzheimer’s Society showed that since being forced to stay isolated and inside their homes, 82% of people with dementia saw a deterioration in symptoms.
But it’s not just those already showing memory problems who’re struggling. Many of us are forgetting to buy milk, to write that email (again…) or that word that’s on the tip of your tongue!
There are different types of memory, research is helping us to understand how the constraint have impacted us.
- Loneliness has had the biggest impact on people’s mood—feeling depressed is known to have an impact on memory
- Lack of social interactions—repetition of stories helps consolidate memories of events (episodic memories). Watercooler moments can mean we talk to dozens of people in day, these aren’t happening with people furloughed or working from home. As big events have been cancelled, even when we have chatted with friends and family we’ve had fewer stories to tell meaning we’re not exercising out episodic memory.
- People have been feeling generally more anxious and there’s more uncertainty. This has been worst for young people, people living on low incomes, people in urban areas and those with children.
- When there’s less variety in our lives and lack of memory cues—it’s hard to differentiate one day from the next and we simply can’t remember what we’ve done! When all your meetings are in front of the same screen, they’re all the same, there’s no way to tag your memory. In the office you might walk passed the lift where you had a conversation and it reminds you to email someone or you’ll drive by the petrol station on your commute home and it’ll remind you of the milk you need to buy.
- Disturbed sleep due to lack of stimulation and worrying about the pandemic is causing fatigue. The brain, like any organ needs us to be fit and healthy, poor sleep, lack or exercise and poor sleep, and it’s functioning less well.
- Not going out and about and finding our way around means the size of our hippocampus is decreasing (the seahorse shaped structure in the brain involved in learning and memory)—it’s a use it or lose it scenario! Research has found London cab drivers have an incredibly large hippocampus!
But there is good news—there are things we can do to stimulate our brains again!
- Go for a walk each day, especially along unfamiliar streets.
- Turn the videocall into a phone call and go for a walk instead of sitting in front of the computer.
- Make sure the weekend is different from the weekdays or make sure you have specified rest days that are noticeably different.
- Do something creative and new and tell someone about it afterwards.
- Deliberately reflect on your day, even in a diary can help. Remembering what you did and recounting it exercises your brain.
- Don’t be ashamed of using alarms and alerts on your phone, these are helpful cues for your brain.
- If trying to remember a list of items, for example a shopping list, imagine yourself in the aisle in the shop actually picking up the items.
- To fight fatigue, good sleep hygiene is best for a good night’s sleep—no caffeine or sugar before bed, sleep in a dark cool room and make sure you’ve had fresh air and/or exercise everyday.
If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, it’s important to get the right support. Contact your GP or speak to a counsellor or therapist. If you’re finding it difficult to cope, talking about it will be the best thing you can do.