Memory Clinic: Living with Memory Disorders

What is Dementia?

Cognitive impairment is the term used to describe decline in memory or thinking skills. Cognitive impairment often presents before dementia and can last for many years depending on the cause. By definition, cognitive impairment is not bad enough to interfere with daily functioning, although people living with cognitive impairment often use many strategies and tools to compensate for their memory loss. Some examples of these are making more lists, setting reminder alarms, or recording more details on a calendar or personal planner.

Dementia is a general term that describes when the decline in mental ability or cognitive impairment is severe enough to interfere with daily life. It is not a specific disease, but instead describes a group of symptoms that are associated with decline in memory or thinking skills. There are different forms of dementia and each form has its own distinct cause. Most types of dementia have a long time course and symptoms worsen over many years. However, in some cases, cognition can improve or be reversed. It is important to be evaluated for these potentially reversible conditions such as such as depression, vitamin deficiency, thyroid disorders, or medication adverse effects. In other cases, dementia may be slowed by treating the underlying cause, such as if the dementia is caused by strokes, vascular disease, or inflammation. Dementia is not a normal part of the aging process.

Some forms of Dementia are:

Things that increase your risk of developing dementia are called risk factors. Some of these risk factors include:

  • Head injury
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Genetics/Family History
  • Aging
  • Smoking/Alcohol Use

Read more about dementia, healthy aging, and risk factors:

Tips and Tools to Improve Cognition

Research indicates that there are many ways we can improve our brain health and prevent some of the risk factors of dementia.

  • Cognitive Apps on your phone or tablet can help keep you mentally active and engage in brain training which has been linked to improvements in brain processing speed, executive function, and working memory. Some commonly used apps that can be downloaded on a smartphone or tablet are Brain HQ and Brain Yoga .
  • HABIT (Healthy Action to Benefit Independence and Thinking) is a program that promotes multimodal changes that can be made during Mild Cognitive Impairment to maintain independence and cope with the stress that arises from the ambiguity of the diagnosis.
  • Learn a new language! Research indicates that being bilingual improves a person’s ability to perform attention-switching tasks and results in an average 4.5-year delay in the onset of common dementia types. It’s never too late to learn a new language.
  • Mindfulness Meditation results in changes in the brain in regions that are associated with both memory and stress. Some apps that can be used for meditation can be found at
  • Dance & Physical Activity increases blood flowing to the brain and reduces dementia risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Dance specifically can improve brain function because of the high level of mental coordination used in executing movement. Tango is a well-studied type of movement that requires a combination of mental effort with social interaction. You can hear about adapted tango dance classes at

Advanced Care Planning and Information for the Future

Advanced Care Planning is learning about and then making decisions regarding treatments and other care you would want if you were unable to speak for yourself. These decisions are personal, reflect your own values and goals, and should be shared with family and friends. Your preferences can be put into an Advanced Directive which is a legal document that states in writing your wishes and the person that will speak for you if you become unable to speak for yourself.

Advanced Care Planning Resources:

  • Advanced Care Directive Wallet Card
  • Prepare for Your Care is an online step-by-step program with video stories to help guide you through thinking about your preferences for health care and your medical wishes.
  • My Directives is an online advance directive that you can update and share anytime. It is also available as a mobile app that is connected to your directive.
  • The Conversation Project is a resource with conversation kits to help guide you through choosing a health proxy, thinking about your health care preferences and medical wishes, and talking with loved ones who have dementia about end of life wishes.
  • American Bar Association Advance Care Planning Toolkit is an online toolkit with worksheets to help guide you through choosing a health proxy, talking with your loved one or health care proxy about your wishes, and knowing when to update your health preferences.
  • Dementia Directive is an advance directive that specifically addresses care preferences at each stage of dementia.

Financial Planning Resources

Connecting with Your Community

  • DC Office of Aging and Community Living connects with wellness centers, lead agencies in the District, caregiving education, and resources offered through the District of Columbia for seniors to promote independence, autonomy, and brain health.
  • The Villages are a part of a neighborhood-based nonprofit organization that makes it easier for older adults to remain living in their home through neighbor connections. There are a number of Senior Villages in the District of Columbia.
  • Just Us at the National Gallery of Art is a 90-minute museum experience exclusively for those with memory loss and their caregivers.
  • See Me at Smithsonian American Art Exhibit is a 90-minute interactive event held at the American Art Exhibit for individuals with dementia and their care partners. The museum is made more accessible through small group settings and discussion.
  • Conversations at the Kreeger Museum is an hour-long program for individuals with mild to moderate memory disorders and their caregivers which includes an interactive gallery talk and a musical component.
  • Memory Cafes are a welcoming place for individuals with any form of cognitive impairment to meet and exchange information through a range of activities. The Washington DC area offers Club Memory in 7 locations across Washington D.C., Northern Virginia, and Maryland.
  • Social Club at the Copper Ridge Bistro in Sykesville, Maryland offers people with early-stage dementia and their friends and family to come together for social engagement and support.
  • Forgetful Friends Chorus is a choral group for people with early-stage dementia and their caregivers or friends.
  • Arts for the Aging (AFTA) is a social service organization that provides arts with mild to moderate physical or cognitive impairments and their care partners. They often partner with museums and culture institutions in the DC metro area. Visit their website to read more about the many programs AFTA offers.
  • StoryCorps is a nonprofit oral history project that gives people the opportunity to record and share their life stories. Their memory loss initiative encourages and provides resources for people with memory loss to record these stories so that they can be preserved for future generations.
  • Positive Exposure is an organization that uses that uses the art of photography and film to present the humanity and diversity of people living with genetic, physical, behavioral, and intellectual differences. Visit their website for more information about the programs offered.
  • Insight Memory Care Center is a comprehensive Northern Virginia Memory Center that provides specialized support, care, and education for individuals with Memory Impairments.
  • The Villages are a part of a neighborhood-based nonprofit organization that makes it easier for older adults to remain living in their home through neighbor connections. There are a number of Senior Villages in the District of Columbia.

Support Groups in Your Community

Online and In-person support groups for people with memory disorders can be found at: