There are numerous mental health factors that influence cognitive impairment. If you or a loved one is concerned with mental health and its relationship to cognitive decline, we’re here to help you understand the connection. In this week’s blog we will be discussing a few tools that can positively impact mental health as it relates to cognitive decline and memory loss.
Certain cognitive impairments may present across the domains of attention, memory, planning, organization, reasoning and problem solving. Impaired cognition is likely to affect daily functioning, in all aspects of life including work, self-care and leisure pursuits in addition to safety. Cognitive decline often creates a barrier to independent living and, in many cases, families of loved ones living with cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s or dementia turn to memory care. Memory care offers residents a supportive environment where trained experts can enhance the lives of those living with cognitive impairment, allowing them to thrive and live a productive and active life.
How Does Diagnosis Impact Mental Health?
Before we dive deeper into the relationship between mental health and cognitive decline, it’s important that we address diagnosis and mental health. Any diagnosis can be unsettling and similarly devastating. This is also true of an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis. Some of the most common feelings and emotions that people experience after a dementia diagnosis include:
After being diagnosed many people worry about the future and what it looks like for someone living with dementia. Depression and anxiety can also be triggered by a diagnosis. If a loved one has been recently diagnosed with dementia here are a few tips for supporting them.
1. Try to put yourself in your loved one’s shoes.
2. Never dismiss any worries or fears that arise - simply listening is a great source of support.
3.Try to live in the moment and tell your loved one to consider doing the same.
4. Participate in events and activities that’ll make you both laugh.
Often, someone who has recently been diagnosed will experience a dip in their confidence. With added worry, stress and the fear of stigma, a person’s self-esteem can suffer. If you’re supporting a loved one whose confidence and self-esteem could use a boost, here are a few tips for caregivers.
1. Celebrate successes, no matter how big or small.
2. Suggest that your loved one attend a support group or sign up for a new activity.
3. Make sure your loved one has time to participate in the activities that they love and enjoy.
4. Minimize critiques and avoid making any belittling comments.
5. Listen as best you can and be as supportive as possible.
If you’re concerned that your loved one may be suffering from depression, it’s important to recognize that symptoms of dementia and depression are very similar. In addition, someone living with dementia may not have the ability to express themselves as they once did, making it even more difficult to uncover depression and its symptoms. Some symptoms of depression to be on the lookout for include social withdrawal, isolation, lack of concentration, impaired thinking, indifference and loss of interest in activities. A depression diagnosis in someone living with dementia requires the skill and care of a medical professional. If you’re concerned, the time to act is now. Set up an appointment for your loved one if you’re unsure.
Outside of depression and anxiety there are other common mental ailments that your loved one may be living with. We discuss some of them below and offer a few ways that you can assist someone as a carer.
How Do Affective Disorders Impact Cognition?
Certain affective disorders can impact the daily lives of those living with bipolar disorder, recurrent depressions or other common mental health conditions. If a loved one is exhibiting any of the following symptoms in connection with an affective disorder, you may want to consider setting up a consultation with a professional senior living community to talk through your family’s options.
Common Symptoms Include:
1. Difficulty or a decline in the ability to pay attention
2. Difficulty or a decline is the ability to sustain attention
3. A decline in the ability to remember or recall information
4. Difficulty thinking critically, categorize and/or organize new information
5. Difficulty problem solving
6. A decline in eye-hand movement coordination
Many aspects of daily living, that many of us take for granted, can be greatly impacted by cognitive decline. Addressing a loved one’s mental health early on in connection with treatment from a mental health expert can positively impact the symptoms associated with cognitive decline. Daily tasks like doing laundry, preparing meals, managing money and getting to places or walking distances can be greatly improved when mental health concerns are addressed.
How Can You Assist With A Loved One’s Cognitive Impairment?
Whether you’re an at-home caregiver or simply assisting a loved one with daily tasks, you may be wondering what you can do to help improve a loved one’s cognition. Some common symptoms of cognitive decline like memory loss, the inability to pay attention or think critically can be improved with a few simple tactics that we discuss below.
If you’re caring for a loved one experiencing memory loss there are a handful of tips that can help your loved one maintain dignity and independence whether they’re living independently, in a memory care community or assisted living community.
-Practice flexibility and patience.
-When presenting new information keep it simple, repeat the information as necessary and break down new activities into small, digestible steps.
-Offer verbal cues rather than ask questions. For example, say “This is your nephew Issac. He’s come to visit you.” Rather than, “Do you remember your nephew Isaac?”
-Maintain a regular routine. Stimulation and a change in routine can be confusing and frustrating.
-Write down important information or leave your loved one with a pen and paper so that they can take notes when needed.
-Ask for help from family, friends or a memory care community.
Improve Critical Thinking Skills
-Play a board game - board games can be a fun and effective way to maintain cognitive health in older adults.
-Add variety into daily activities - play a game one day, take a walk the next and listen to music once a week. Adding variety to our daily activities can improve critical thinking skills at any age!
-Join a social club - engaging with people in conversation and activities is a great way to enhance cognitive and critical thinking skills.
-Seek out diversity of thought by making new friends - making new friends who think differently than you can make you a better thinker.
There is much research to support the relationship between mental health and cognitive decline. There are a handful of simple and effective tactics and activities that your loved one can participate in to improve symptoms associated with cognitive decline. What’s even better is that most of these activities can be done together with family and friends. If you’re interested in learning more about Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia read our blog on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia podcasts.