How to Talk About Cognitive Decline

Cognitive decline can often be subjective. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), subjective cognitive decline is, “the self-reported experience of worsening or more frequent confusion or memory loss.” It is also one of the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. If a loved one is experiencing subjective cognitive decline, having a conversation about the future, what it may look like and how to prepare, may be a bit easier.

If, on the other hand, a loved one hasn’t noticed any decline of their cognition, daily tasks like cooking, cleaning and general hygiene, for example, may have become more difficult. If this is the case, talking about cognitive decline may be a bit more difficult. Don’t fret, we’re here to give you a few tips and tricks for talking to a loved one about cognitive decline as well as answering the question, “What is cognitive impairment?”

What Is Cognitive Impairment?

More than 16 million people residing in the United States are living with cognitive impairment. According to the CDC, age plays the largest role in cognitive impairment and this condition results in difficulties with memory, learning new things, focusing and making decisions that impact older adults’ lives each and every day. While age is certainly not the only factor in cognitive impairment, it is an important consideration as your parents or a loved one ages.

What Are Some Early Signs Of Cognitive Impairment?

Memory loss

-Frequently asking the same question or repeating the same story over and over

-Not recognizing familiar people and places

-Having trouble exercising judgment, such as knowing what to do in an emergency

-Changes in mood or behavior

-Vision problems

-Difficulty planning and carrying out tasks, such as following a recipe or keeping track of monthly bills

Recommendations For Talking To A Loved One About Cognitive Decline

Stay Optimistic, Practice Patience

When someone is experiencing cognitive impairment, it’s crucial to remember that while they may not be able to comprehend every nuance and word of the conversation, they most definitely pick up on tone, mood and expression. Not only do the words that you choose to use matter, your body language and tone of voice also have an impact. While this is a difficult time for all involved, it’s wise to keep your loved one’s emotions in mind. Continued positivity in the face of hardship is difficult and immensely important for your loved one.

Continued patience is another great recommendation for those caring for a loved one during and throughout cognitive decline. As tempting as it may be to fill in the blanks while having a conversation, it’s more of a hindrance than a help. Always filling in the blanks or speaking for someone may make them reliant upon you for communication, create hesitation in communicating and keep them from exercising their brain. It’s important for those living with cognitive impairment to exercise their brain, communicate and express themselves. Over time, you may find some comfort in those long pauses.

Plan Out The Conversation

Akin to most difficult things in life, preparation lends itself to success. If your loved one has self-reported cognitive decline this conversation still requires preparation. Sit down with a notepad and pen and jot down questions that you may have for them. Aim for 15-20 questions and feel free to share these with other family members who may have useful input. It may be wise to set these questions aside for a day or two and then come back to them for revision.

Planning often prevents us from blurting out the first thing that comes to mind like, “Why have you stopped taking your medication?” or “You’re so forgetful lately, what’s going on?” It’s best to plan out your concerns with questions that won’t make your loved one feel shame, confusion or anger.

This is also a good time to determine who should be part of the conversation. Will you be going alone, with a sibling, a spouse, accompanied by a son or daughter? It’s also a great time to select a comfortable setting where both you and your loved one will feel relaxed and open.

Encourage A Discussion

If you’ve already come to the table with a plan of action and dictate the path forward, it’s very likely that your loved one’s reaction will be one of frustration, anger or objection. The plan forward should be a plan made in partnership.

It’s best to talk honestly about how you’re feeling without being cynical or turning to anger or frustration. Your loved one is very likely to understand that this is hard for you, too. Continue to listen throughout the conversation and not talk over your loved one, as we discussed above. The first conversation is also a great time to ask for feedback and ask your loved one if they have any questions, concerns or comments.

It’s crucial to remember that the initial conversation is the first step in a long journey. It’s the beginning of what will hopefully be a great future forward with continued conversations steeped in respect and listening.

Create An Action Plan

While this may be the first conversation of many, it’s well advised to try to come up with a plan of action moving forward. This may be something as simple as a visit to the doctor or the decision to hire a monthly cleaning service.

This could also be a more extensive plan that goes beyond a visit with the physician. An extensive plan may mean encouraging your loved one to sign up for activities outside of the home — exercise, visits with family and friends, activity clubs for seniors, daily walks, book clubs, the list goes one. There are plenty of activities designed to enrich the lives of those living with cognitive impairment.

Whether the plan of action is planned a week out or a few months out, any plan is progress. It’s important to stave off any feelings of discouragement during these initial conversations as they are difficult and emotionally taxing. That said, if you stick to a plan, ask for support and put communication first, you may find that this journey isn’t as difficult as you had expected.

If you or a loved one needs assistance with memory care, contact the Prestige community nearest you