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Inside Out and Memory Loss

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Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out left a big impression on people—which is par for the course, really—but they created a children’s movie out of something that accurately portrays dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

The main character, Riley, is a young girl trying to adapt to her new environment. The family has just moved and she’s away from her friends and hobbies. Inside her mind, we see that the core memories that make up the basis for her personality are lost along with emotions, Joy and Sadness. However, in the ensuing personification of Riley’s memory, Pixar actually creates a good resource for family caregivers taking care of their elders with dementia.

Here are 3 ways Inside Out works with Alzheimer’s.

1. Mood Swings

One of the tell-tale signs of dementia is mood swings. These usually occur during sunset or sunrise when the light changes drastically. The shift in light can upset their sleep schedule and—worse—can cause seniors to forget the hour and where they are. This is known as sundowning and it’s one of the main causes of mood swings. The change in light is disorienting and as their brains attempt to auto-correct, they usually blame the person closest to them.

With mood swings, everyone becomes an enemy and a threat. Your once-loving mother can transform into a fierce lady who accuses you of tampering with her medications. They’re disoriented and the person you once knew her for leaves (for that moment). That’s the important thing to remember.

The joyous smile and empathetic ear of your mother may have be gone for the moment but they will return when the swing subsides. You cannot be offended, but remember that their brains are trying to work out the system and are being piloted by Disgust, Anger, and Fear.

2. Core Memories Exist

You’ve always known your parent for just that: being a parent. But the fact is, they were regular people walking around at one point without kids. Even as we grow and bond with our parents (and elders), we may never know them completely since they can censor their past.

When your senior suffers dementia, they may not remember you (initially). They may call you by a different name and act differently. Perhaps you always viewed them as a “rules were made to be broken” type of person, but suddenly, they’re talking about “breaking the rules” and escaping the Hand of the Man.

The fact is, there are core memories that make up who we are (for better or worse) and your loved one’s personality may change drastically from what you know, but they are still your loved one. Don’t assume they’re going crazy, just that they’re showing you a side of themselves you haven’t seen before.

3. Long-Term Memory is a Mess

In the film, there’s a cleanup crew in the memory section of the brain. They vacuum out useless information and install new (more pressing) memories. With dementia however, this process is completely jumbled. Now, important memories are shelved and others are sent to be forgotten.

Although it would be great to assume we could get all their memories back, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. And this means that once certain memories are lost or corrupted in translation, they’re lost for good. This is also why performing a consistent routine with your elder is the best way to combat dementia.

The best way for you to reconnect with your elder who appears to be losing all their memories is to utilize the senses to trigger their memories. Cook them their favorite meal, eat their favorite foods, explore their favorite parks, and sing their favorite songs. Connect on a sensory level to jog some more memories and keep your elder in motion.

It’s entirely possible that Inside Out started as a sequel to Up, and Carl was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. No doubt that wouldn’t test well with audiences as it’d be too real and too sad (even for a Disney company), but there are many lessons to take away from this feature film.

Apply this imaginary world to your elder with dementia and hopefully it’ll give you more of an understanding as to what they’re going through. In the meantime, if you need additional help, contact our housing advisors to find memory care anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. We’ll make sure you make the right choice the first time.


Written by
Concierge Care Advisors

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