Guest blogger Christian Wilson tackles the arduous task of caring for those with memory impairment with some very practical tips.
Caring for an individual with memory problems can be difficult and stressful. Even more stressful, however, is realizing a loved one—or yourself—may be beginning to show the signs of memory issues or mild cognitive impairment (MCI). This can lead to both worry and denial, since MCI is considered a very early stage of dementia. It’s important to note that a person who has developed MCI won’t necessarily develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, though those who do develop MCI are at a much higher risk for further impairment.
What is mild cognitive impairment? It’s often classified a change in cognition, essentially the way a person thinks. Cognition includes memory and the ability to understand and comprehend one’s environment. Unfortunately, while it can be an ambiguous condition and there isn’t a consistent way to diagnose MCI, there are several recognizable symptoms to look for. These symptoms can include:
- Difficulty forming short-term memories
- Difficulty speaking or communicating complete thoughts
- Easily distracted
- Inability to concentrate
- Mental fog
Diagnosing mild cognitive impairment. Because MCI is a more ambiguous condition, diagnosing it can be a challenge for doctors and health care providers and oftentimes won’t receive the proper response. Since much of the MCI diagnosis process is based around observation, it can take an extended period of time to come to a firm conclusion. Blood testing can be done, as well neurological tests, and brain imaging. Blood tests can determine vitamin B-12 deficiency and hypothyroidism, both which can produce symptoms of MCI. If these conditions are discovered, treatment can improve symptoms, and if symptoms improve then the individual isn’t likely afflicted with MCI.
Caring for patients. So, if you’re in the position of caring for someone diagnosed with MCI, what can you do?
Educate yourself. If you’re providing care for a person or loved one with MCI, the better educated you are about the condition, the better you’ll be able to provide positive care. It can be as simple as knowing and understanding the signs of MCI or preparing for the possibility of caring for a person with a worsening condition.
Monitor and assess. Observe the individual and look for signs of improvement, stability, or decline. Being aware of their current state of mind will determine how you care for them. If they improve, your role may eventually be reduced. If their condition declines, the quicker you will be able to respond, which will result in greater likelihood the patient will be able to receive proper treatment, especially if the MCI begins to be manifested as dementia.
Create a positive environment. Make sure the person has plenty to do. An active mind is a healthy mind and keeping their mind and body active is often the best thing a caregiver can do. This can include reading a book or playing games (both video and board), visiting a museum, as well as going for a walk or hike. Additionally, having patience will contribute to a more positive environment and reduced stress.
Diet and exercise. A change in diet can help to ease and reduce the signs of MCI. Develop a involving more fruits and vegetables, while decreasing the high fat and high sugar foods. Increase the person’s intake of omega-3 fatty acid supplements and vitamin B (particularly if a change in diet rich in these nutrients is not enough). Coupled with a healthy diet, regular exercise has been shown to have a very positive impact on the brain and cognitive function. Ensure the person participates in physical activity, such as gardening, swimming, or walking, on a daily basis.
Before embarking on any plan of action, it is imperative that you work with a doctor in order to help your senior, whether they be a family member or client, age well.
Christian Wilson currently works in the home care industry. He writes about issues facing the elderly and spends a lot of his work day answering questions regarding home care. When he’s not at work he enjoys traveling with his family and meeting new people.