Help for Caregivers: Recognize the Signs of Cognitive Impairment
One of the most difficult parts of being a caregiver is watching someone succumb to age. Living a healthy, active life is a good way to fight off many signs of aging and disease, but even the healthiest of us get older, and that sometimes means becoming debilitated in both body and mind.
If you’re taking care of a relative, it can be difficult to recognize signs that could point to problems with their brain and cognitive ability. After all, if you see them often, it can be hard to notice gradual changes to their personality or thinking. Here are a few of the signs that may indicate that your senior may need extra care or attention.
Learn the Signs of Mild Cognitive Impairment
As we age, our brains become less elastic and a little slower. That’s why we don’t remember names or simply lose track of what we’re thinking. These could be signs of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which can be an early warning for Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
Other signs of MCI include:
- Feeling overwhelmed when faced with a decision
- Having trouble navigating a familiar environment
- Changes in mood or personality, including anxiety, confusion, depression, or acting suspicious and mistrustful
- Increased impulsivity or lack of “good judgment”
MCI isn’t caused by one specific disease or condition. It may be a side effect of certain medications, and it may be brought on by endocrine or metabolic disorders (e.g., thyroid gland dysfunctions), as well as changes to the brain. In some cases, MCI may stabilize or even improve, but other people with MCI may develop Alzheimer’s Disease.
Learn the Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. Alzheimer’s causes abnormal changes to the brain that get worse over time. Although it is related to age, it is not a normal part of aging.
In Alzheimer’s early stages, many people experience no outward signs that anything is wrong. But over time, the symptoms get worse and interfere with their ability to function. That’s why it’s important to recognize the symptoms early.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the 10 most common signs include:
Memory loss that disrupts daily life
Challenges in planning or problem-solving
Difficulty with familiar tasks
Confusion with time or place
Trouble understanding images or spatial relationships
Problems with words (speaking and writing)
Withdrawal from socializing
Changes in mood or personality
Toward the end stages of Alzheimer’s, people need a great deal of care. In some cases, they have trouble speaking, swallowing, or walking.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. However, there are many effective treatments available that fight symptoms and even slow the decline, making it possible for patients to live a more normal life.
Help Your Loved One Protect Their Brains
Both MCI and Alzheimer’s may be related to genetics, but you can still help your loved one protect and even improve their brain health with a few lifestyle changes:
Serve healthy foods. Avoid highly processed or fatty foods, alcohol, and aspartame (the artificial sweetener found in many diet sodas). Instead, serve lean meats, whole grains, healthy fats, and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Get them moving. Exercise is one of the best ways to protect brain health. Direct effects include improving memory and thinking by reducing inflammation and stimulating growth factors; indirectly, exercise can help improve sleep quality and helps reduce stress and anxiety.
Keep them socially engaged. Even though it’s still not a good idea to visit relatives and friends in-person right now, help your senior stay social and connected with video-chats, telephone calls, and whatever social opportunities you can perform safely. This will help them feel less isolated, lonely, and depressed, which could offer protection from Alzheimer’s.
Regular doctor’s appointments. Many seniors with MCI go on to develop Alzheimer’s Disease, so regular visits are a good way to “check in” and make sure their condition is being monitored.
When You Need Help, We’re Here for You
AltaMed is here to support caregivers. We offer many senior services, including care from specialists who understand the unique physical and mental health needs of the elderly.
If your senior has two or more medical conditions and needs some extra support, contact us to learn more about AltaMed PACE, the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly. AltaMed PACE helps keep seniors healthy and independent at home by providing coordinated medical care, social services (as needed), meals, and more. The program also helps seniors build social connections and try new activities, which can protect brain health and fight depression.
As the saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Caregivers, you need to care for yourself, too! That means eating well to keep your immune system healthy, getting your rest, practicing self-care, and taking care of your own health needs. Don’t neglect your routine visits and tests: we’re open to serve you and we’re committed to keeping you safe. Call us to schedule an appointment at (888) 499-9303.