You’ve noticed your loved one acting differently. They might stumble over their words or take a long time to remember once-familiar names. Unfortunately, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a common problem related to aging.
The good news is that MCI isn’t the end of the road for your senior loved one’s cognitive skills and memory. There are many things you can do to support them through this. If you want to best care for them, it’s helpful to first understand what mild cognitive impairment really is — and what you can do about it.
Mild Cognitive Impairment: The Border Between Normal Aging and Dementia
Dementia is often a frightening prospect for family caregivers of elderly loved ones. After all, it can severely impact your loved one’s memory, behavior, and thinking skills. Luckily, there are many signs and symptoms to watch for before full-blown dementia strikes.
The Early Stages of Memory Impairment
As your loved one develops mild cognitive impairment, they won’t lose their ability to carry out daily tasks. These can include driving, shopping, dressing and bathing, and so on. However, it’s important to look for key signs that MCI is coming on to prevent it from taking over your loved one’s life.
Some signs of MCI include:
- Frequently losing belongings
- Struggling to use the right words
- Forgetting about events and scheduled activities
- Difficulty with complex thought processes, such as calculations, spatial skills, etc.
- Short-term memory problems
These are all subtle symptoms of MCI, which goes beyond normal age-related memory issues.
Does This Mean My Loved One Has Alzheimer’s or Dementia?
Generally speaking, MCI can be an early warning sign of worsening dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. However, it’s not a guarantee that your loved one’s cognitive problems will progress to these more serious conditions. Much like other chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, prevention may be possible with proper treatment.
Coping With MCI Symptoms as a Caregiver
If you suspect your loved one has MCI — or a physician has diagnosed it — this isn’t the beginning of the end. You can use certain activities, techniques, and tools to keep your loved one happy and healthy. It’s important to remember that the brain is always changing and forming new pathways, so anything is possible.
Keep Your Loved One’s Mind Active
One way you can support your loved one’s cognitive skills is to provide mental activities and challenges. As long as their brain is working on new skills, new neurological pathways are being created. This is great news when it comes to senior brain health.
During neutral times, offer an enjoyable cognitive activity, like a crossword puzzle or brain-buster game. It’s also important to encourage your loved one to keep their own calendars, to-do lists, and personal schedules. This will help reinforce familiar concepts and keep their memory a bit sharper.
Encourage a Healthy Lifestyle
You’ve probably heard the age-old advice — eat your fruits and vegetables, and get plenty of exercise. When it comes to cognitive health, however, this advice is incredibly important.
Try to nudge your loved one toward a healthy diet full of antioxidants and other protective compounds. Fruits and vegetables naturally contain anti-aging molecules that may help support their brain health.
In addition, physical activity improves blood flow to the brain and may defend against cognitive decline. Take walks with your elderly loved one, and if they’re able, encourage them to play sports or do other enjoyable types of cardio. Even just 10 minutes a day of mild to moderate exercise can have a protective effect on their health.
Work With a Healthcare Professional
Your loved one needs a specialized medical team to navigate these cognitive challenges effectively. Pay close attention, and take notes during doctor’s appointments so that you know what’s going on. If your loved one needs any medications, ensure that they get them on time every day.
Protect Yourself From Burnout
While your senior loved one’s health and well-being are important, your mental health matters, too. Dealing with the symptoms of mild cognitive impairment can take a toll on you as a caregiver.
This is especially true when you’re related to the senior you’re caring for. Since you have more emotional investment, you may become wrapped up in frustration, sadness, and draining levels of empathy.
Make plenty of time for self-care and take breaks whenever possible. This will “fill your cup,” ensuring you have plenty to give to your elderly loved one.
Navigating Cognitive Challenges With Your Loved One
Even while seniors are experiencing mild cognitive impairment, they’re fully aware of everything that’s happening around them. Make sure to include your loved one in every decision you make and each strategy you use for their well-being. With compassion and proper care, you can help foster better brain health for your loved one.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.