Unfortunately, cognitive decline is something that some people can not stop from happening. It tends to be especially hard on the family and/or loved ones that are witnessing it happen. One day you notice your loved one is starting to stutter their words when they are trying to find a thought. Or you begin to realize that they cannot remember important things like their address or their children’s name. Their world becomes confusing and frustrating and your world becomes unknown.
Today, I would like to share some strategies that I use as an Occupational Therapist to help ease some comfort into these unfamiliar territories.
The first helpful thing to do is narrow down what specific concerns you notice your loved one is having. The best way to do that is to get out a small notebook and start documenting specific instances that tend to “trigger” the confusion or forgetfulness. For example, maybe you realized that your loved one forgets what buttons to push every time they attempt to turn on the television, or maybe you recognize a struggle keeping a check book balanced or reading the newspaper. Mark these things down, not only for your sake, but in case you seek professional help from your physician or your local Occupational Therapist. These pieces of information are very helpful when deciding the best course of action for your loved one.
One of the best things we can all do for the mind is to keep it active! There are tremendous resources available that are very minimal or no cost to you. The first thing you may consider is the use of a computer or smart phone. There are multiple websites and apps that are literally designed for the aging mind. They help with all different areas of concern such as recall, recognition, and sequencing, just to name a few.
Another great thing to do is to grab those word and number “puzzle books.” Start dabbling in crossword puzzles, word searches or Sudoku. Try to solve riddles or do complex mazes. You can usually find these books available in all of the “dollar stores” for a very minimal cost!
Make life simpler. What does that mean? That means you take items that were once simple, and are now more complicated, and make them simple again. Did you follow that? For example, a remote control. A remote may seem easy for us, but to someone with a cognitive decline, that piece of equipment may be overwhelming. So, let us make it simpler. Take a small piece of blank paper and cover up all the unnecessary buttons, so only the necessary buttons are showing. Let’s be honest, we usually do not use half of those buttons on the remote anyways. So, if you cover up everything except for the power button, volume and channel changer, you just made a complex item, visually, much simpler. Make sense? You can do that with a lot of things.
Here is another example. Reading the newspaper. Following columns can be very challenging. Eliminate the “extra, visually-distracting articles” by simply folding the paper so only the article you are reading shows. You could also simply outline, with a bright marker, the edges of the columns in the article, so your loved one knows where to start and stop! Get creative and think like an Occupational Therapist!
Start making charts and lists. Following a visual routine is handy for us all, whether we are experiencing a cognitive decline or not. But to the person who is now having a more difficult time remembering things, following a chart/daily routine not only makes their lives easier, but yours as well. Think about your daily routine. Chart it out and stick it in a common, visible spot. Pictures are always good, especially realistic ones.
Get out and be social. There is a lot of evidence-based research that proves being social has a positive impact on the aging brain. It is not only the fact that you are socializing and having a conversation with other people that is healthy. You had to get up and get ready to have that conversation, right? Having a reason, a purpose, to get up, get showered, get dressed, routine, routine, routine…see where I am going here?
I hope that some of these ideas put your mind at rest. If you recognize that you or your loved one is starting to show signs of a cognitive delay and it only seems to be getting worse than better, please seek out medical advice from your doctor. They will help you make the best decision and refer you the right people.
Staying active, social, and healthy is always the best medicine for not only your lifestyle, but for your aging brain.