Caregiving for Aging Adults with Cognitive Impairment

Short-term memory loss. Lost car keys. Misplaced items. Communication challenges. Poor recollection of recent events. Many adults experience the symptoms of cognitive impairment as they age. The causes of cognitive impairment can include Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease.

As a caregiver for a loved one with a cognitive impairment, you may experience a number of challenges specific to your loved one’s condition. This blog details some common issues you may face and tips to help you navigate them.

Caregiving Challenges

  • Memory problems. Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, strokes, brain injuries, and other conditions that cause dementia can impair your loved one’s memory. As a result, your loved one may no longer be able to care for themselves. Maybe they cannot rely on their memory for basic information, such as when they ate or when they took their medications. For caregivers, it can be frustrating to repeat reminders and make sure your loved one follows through.
  • Communication problems. Stroke, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease can negatively impact a person’s ability to talk. On the other hand, a person with dementia may be able to speak clearly, but the words they say may not make much sense to others logically. Caregivers may be forced to guess if they are giving their loved one what they need. This situation can be tough because caregivers might worry that they are missing important information that their loved one is trying to tell them.
  • Behavior problems. Resistance to care and emotional outbursts are common among those with cognitive problems, though this varies according to the condition and age of the individual. Caregivers may need to find ways that work to get their loved one to comply with their instructions by asking for their loved one’s preferences and motivating them with rewards. Caregivers also need to be vigilant to ensure the safety of their loved one and themselves during times of emotional outburst.

Caregiving Tips

Here are some ways to ease the challenges you may face as a caregiver for someone with cognitive issues.

  • Learn about the causes and care tips for the specific cognitive problem. Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease will have a different approach than caring for someone with Parkinson’s disease. Research the causes of loved one’s condition and discuss specific caregiving strategies with your loved one’s health provider. Consider joining a support group or caregiving community specific to your loved one’s condition.
  • Create a calm and organized environment. Keep spaces clutter-free and essentials easy to find by labeling drawers and cabinets. This can help avoid your loved one from being overwhelmed or frustrated. Your goal is to create a space where your loved one will feel safe and comfortable. Limit distractions (e.g., television, radio, etc.) when your loved one is trying to concentrate.
  • Follow a schedule. People with cognitive problems benefit from having a routine. Having an established schedule can help loved ones find consistency and security in an environment that might be erratic and confusing to them.
  • Keep communication simple. Avoid using jargon when communicating with someone who is cognitively impaired. Ask questions one at a time and wait for an answer before asking another question. Break down instructions into single steps. Avoid talking too quickly.
  • Be open-minded and flexible. Your loved one’s condition may progress. As a result, you may have to switch your approach from time to time. When you feel frustrated, remember that your loved one’s condition is not their fault. Avoid blaming him or her for the changes that the disease has caused.