Cognitive impairment also called cognitive decline, is often a normal part of the ageing process. Memory loss, difficulties in learning new things, concentrating or making decisions are typical signs of cognitive decline, ranging from mild to severe.
Often those experiencing cognitive decline are unaware of the issue. Alternatively, they may be aware it is happening and be experiencing a range of emotions such as acceptance, depression, confusion, anger or grief – which can be challenging for family and friends.
The good news is that there is a lot you can do to help yourself and your loved one experiencing cognitive decline.
Look after yourself
Managing a family member experiencing cognitive decline comes with a range of emotions and responsibilities. You may be having difficult conversations, be on the receiving end of some anger and frustration, and wonder how you will cope with the demands of continued decline and what it means for you and your family. There is plenty of support available, so be aware of your health and wellbeing first and foremost.
Keeping a routine
In the early stages of the disease, daily routines help people living with cognitive decline predictably navigate their world and add a sense of order to their days, which becomes even more critical as they lose awareness of time. Plus, since routines are stored in long-term memory, cognitive decline usually affects short-term memory first, allowing those long-term memories to remain familiar.
Another significant advantage of a daily routine is a reduction in anxiety levels. As cognitive decline progresses, it is common to be increasingly frustrated with their loss of cognitive and physical abilities. Routines can help face the day with a greater sense of peace and security, which reduces agitation and frustration.
Maintaining a nutritious diet
Cooking and eating nutritious meals can become more difficult for those experiencing cognitive decline, leading to nutritional deficiencies, reduction in overall immunity and weight loss.
Dietary guidelines for older Australians suggest eating at least three meals a day, drinking plenty of water, eating plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruit, cereals, bread and pasta and foods high in calcium. Reduce saturated fats, salt and sugar.
Setting an alarm as a reminder to eat, leaving nutritious snacks that don’t need refrigeration within eyesight can help. Organising meal delivery services of having family members cook and freeze large quantities of healthy meals in portion-controlled sizes can be beneficial.
Connection – prevent depression.
Depression can go hand in hand with cognitive decline and exacerbate the condition. Getting adequate sleep, getting up and about with regular movement, finding activities that bring joy and maintaining a nutritious diet can all help.
One of the most significant contributors to depression in older age can be social isolation. Helping your loved one spend time with family and friends can be highly beneficial in preventing depression.
Create opportunities for mental stimulation
The old saying of “use it or lose it” really applies to cognitive decline. Engaging seniors on a mental level can be as simple as cards, board games and puzzles – even reading a good book. Gardening, knitting, music and painting are also highly beneficial in providing mental stimulation. Aside from helping stimulate the mind, these activities can also offer a sense of purpose, engagement and connectedness to support overall health and wellbeing.
Ensure medications are correct
It is common for those with cognitive decline to forget to take medications or mix up their dosage, so finding ways to manage medications is critical. Some medications can also exacerbate memory loss, so it is important to monitor to ensure no unnecessary side effects.
Medications can also help support regular sleep, increased mood, and supplement for nutritional deficiencies. Having a strong relationship with a general practitioner who undertakes regular medication reviews can reduce the rate and impact of cognitive decline.
Protect their safety
Memory loss can lead to issues of safety at home. Leaving a hotplate, stove or heater on and forgetting to secure the home can create safety issues for vulnerable people. Going out and forgetting how to get home can also place your loved ones in difficult situations. There are new technologies that can help you monitor your loved one if needed.
Financially, it is common for those with cognitive decline to find it challenging to remember PINs and passwords, pay bills on time and make sound financial decisions. Putting in place, a Power of Attorney may be beneficial along with finding ways to help support the management of day-to-day affairs such as doing the shopping.
Whether considering in-home care or transitioning to an aged care facility, the right type of support can help give those experiencing cognitive decline a safe, confident, better quality of life. In many cases, cognitive decline can happen slowly with caregivers taking on more and more responsibilities, making them feel overwhelmed, exhausted, guilty and struggling to manage their health with so much energy directed toward their loved one. Sometimes the right type of support can be helpful for everyone involved.
Care360 is Australia’s first independent aged care search service helping you find the right aged care home for your loved one. Care360 helps reduce the stress of finding aged care by putting all the information you need at your fingertips with their personalised Quality of Care Report. Enter a few details, and we will provide a comprehensive, independent report showing the top aged care homes matched to your requirements. Find out more here.