When it comes to healthy aging, many people think of physical health first. But healthy aging also encompasses cognitive, mental and even social health. All four elements have to be in harmony for someone to truly enjoy healthy aging.
That goes for those living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Though the method for helping someone with dementia achieve healthy aging may be different than for someone without cognitive decline, it’s no less important.
When a loved one is diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, for many people, the impulse is to become their caregiver.
In doing so, it completely changes the day-to-day life of the caregiver, who may also be balancing the needs of their own family as well as a job.
With this new reality, even the best-intentioned caregivers can easily find themselves overwhelmed as they just try to get through the day, nevermind how to also incorporate the best practices of healthy aging.
To that end, our blog will help offer some tips for caregivers on how to help a loved one with cognitive decline achieve healthy aging. Of course, it won’t be possible to use every one of these every day, and these are just a small sample of strategies that can be helpful, but we hope it offers a starting point as you embark on this journey with your loved one.
A traditional fitness program can be challenging for someone with cognitive decline, but there are ways to help your loved one with exercise. A few of the ways to do so can include:
- Accompanying them on daily walks around the neighborhood.
- Balancing in a standing positing (with a support available)
- Including them in gardening or other light yard work.
- Watching television together, and using commercial breaks for simple exercises like marching in place, getting up and down from the sofa, stretches, etc.
- Many community centers offer tai chi classes for older adults – inquire if they run classes for people with cognitive decline and their caregivers.
Furthermore, one of the best ways to keep a loved one with dementia physically healthy is to mitigate their fall risk. Falling is one of the most common health risks for older adults. A few things you can do to help can include:
- Removing loose cords and clutter from walking paths around the home.
- Making sure they’re wearing proper footwear, including non-slip footwear if there’s hardwood in the home.
- Ensuring rooms are well-lit and any dead light bulbs are replaced immediately.
- Using non-slip mats in showers and bathtubs, and if possible, installing grab bars in the bathroom.
It goes without saying that tending to the cognitive health of someone with dementia is tricky, particularly since people will be at different parts of their journey – from the early stages of Mild Cognitive Impairment to advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
But with that said, here are a few ways to help your loved one:
- Keep them on a consistent sleep schedule every day. Try to help your loved go to bed and wake up at the same times as much as possible.
- Eat healthy – a healthy, balanced diet can help maintain cognitive health. The Mediterranean Diet is particularly effective. But the fewer processed foods, and the more natural or organic, the better.
- Play music! The part of the brain that stores song lyrics is often unaffected by the disease, and many people with dementia can remember their favorite songs. You might be surprised at what they can belt out. Before he passed, Tony Bennett performed a full concert while living with memory loss.
Tending to your loved one’s mental health when they’re living with dementia or Alzheimer’s can be tricky – sometimes the symptoms can be similar, and what you may think is a normal part of cognitive decline may in fact be a mental health concern.
Here are a few ways to help your loved one with their mental health:
- If their spouse or a loved one has passed away and they ask about that person, you don’t need to remind them that that individual has passed. It just starts the grieving process all over again. Gently redirect the conversation and try to steer them to a new topic.
- There’s no need to argue facts with someone living with memory loss – if they get a detail wrong in a story or anecdote, simply go with it. Correcting them can only remind them of the challenges they’re facing.
- Stay active. We had a section above on physical health, and keeping an active lifestyle as much as possible with appropriate exercises can help with cognitive health.
Staying social is one of the best things people can do for their brain.
Research shows that 60-year-old people who visited with friends almost daily were 12 percent less likely to develop dementia than those who only saw one or two friends every few months.
Whether your loved one is early in a diagnosis or living with Alzheimer’s disease, there are ways to keep them social and part of their extended community:
- Help facilitate visits, phone calls or Facetime calls with loved ones. Also, act as a conduit during the conversation – help your loved one through the conversation to keep them engaged.
- Sit down with your loved one and go through photo albums and scrapbooks. If they remember people or events, let them guide the conversation. If they’re struggling, help fill in the blanks. Just be cognizant of what we mentioned above about reminding them of people they’ve lost.
- Join a support group for those with cognitive decline and their families. It can help both yourself and your loved one find community and understanding.
Healthy Aging at Prestige
At Prestige, healthy aging is at the core of how we care for our residents. We nourish mind, body and spirit as we help residents celebrate life at every age.
Our team gets to know each resident personally and works with their family to learn their life story, helping us tailor our care to each resident.
If you’re ready to consider memory care for your loved one, contact the community nearest you to book a tour and learn more.