Living with memory loss


Virginia Laken tapped a finger on her planner. “This was the key,” she said. Her plans for every day are jotted down in detail in this pocket calendar, and she consults it regularly.

It is a simple thing, but these schedules and notes help Laken compensate for some of the challenges her memory loss poses. Virginia reviews it daily with her husband, Keith Laken. “It keeps me from being frustrated — ‘Oh we just talked about this,’” Keith said.

Virginia exercises and practices yoga and meditation. Being physically active is part of being mentally active, she said. She makes a point to keep up friendships and a social life, although big crowds are not her favorite. “She is getting more comfortable engaging with people without knowing their names,” Keith said. To stimulate her mind, she reads, does crosswords, and is taking a Winona State Retiree Center Senior University class on physics. “Physics! Can you imagine that?” Virginia exclaimed, beaming.

While people have lots of misconceptions, Virginia has found that being open about her mild cognitive impairment has helped other people help her. Her yoga instructor gently reminds her to switch to her left foot. “Part of the responsibility at this point is my responsibility for asking for what I need,” she stated.

As Virginia’s caregiver, Keith has had his own journey. Early on, he would get frustrated that she did not remember things. “I started thinking like a coach,” he explained. “As Virginia’s partner, I’m in a better position to change my habits than she is to change her habits.”

“Keith has always been the head of companies and a fixer,” Virginia said. She said that at first, he wanted to fix everything for her. “Sometimes just say, ‘I understand,’ or even more critical, ‘Tell me more,’” Keith advised.

Virginia said she is not sure whether she likes the term “dementia-friendly” — the label for the efforts Winona and cities across the U.S. are taking to be more inclusive and supportive of people with memory problems — but she believes talking about it is an important step. More transportation options for people who cannot drive themselves — including people who live in the country like herself — would make a big difference, she said.


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