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Cognitive Problems: A Caregiver's Guide

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Cognitive Problems and Caregiving: Specific Issues continued...

Communication problems. If you’re a caregiver, communication with your loved one is crucial – it’s the only way to know if you’re giving him what he needs. But with conditions that cause cognitive problems, even basic communication may be difficult or impossible.

Children with autism often have very delayed speech and some have lifelong difficulty communicating. As MS and Parkinson’s disease progress, they can also diminish a person’s ability to talk. A parent with dementia may be able to speak clearly, but what she says may no longer make much sense.

Caregivers are often forced to guess about what their loved ones with cognitive problems want. That can leave them constantly worried that they’re missing something -- that their loved ones are trying to tell them something that they can’t understand.

Behavior problems. Though behavior problems vary according to the condition and age of the person you’re caring for, people with cognitive disorders may have trouble self-regulating their behavior. Emotional outbursts are common with many cognitive problems. At its worst, a person’s behavior can become violent and dangerous, either to you or to himself.

Cognitive Problems: Tips for Caregivers

So what are some things you can do to improve your loved one’s care – and make things easier for yourself? 

  • Learn about the cause – and how to care for it. Read up on your loved one’s condition and specific caregiving strategies for it. Don’t just rely on instinct. The best caregiving approach will vary. Caring for a father with dementia will be very different from caring for a sister with cancer or a child with Down syndrome.
  • Create a calm environment. A person with cognitive problems can be easily overwhelmed. So do your best to create a place where she feels safe and comfortable. When your loved one is trying to concentrate on something, limit other distractions like television.
  • Keep things organized. This can make a big difference for your loved one with cognitive problems. A person with autism may find disorder to be stressful and overwhelming. A parent with dementia might have trouble finding things or quickly lose track of what he’s doing. Keep things uncluttered, with the essentials easy to find. Label drawers and cabinets, so your loved one knows at a glance what’s inside.
  • Adopt a schedule. People with cognitive problems can really benefit from a routine – it gives them something to rely on in a world that might seem confusing and chaotic.
  • Be open-minded. When you’re caring for a loved one with a cognitive problem, you might have to mix up your approach from time to time. Your loved one will change -- either as he grows or the disease advances – and some solutions may stop working. Don’t be too rigid to give up a tactic that’s not helping anymore.
  • Keep it simple. If communicating is difficult, try to keep your language basic. Don’t subject your loved one to a barrage of questions. Ask one at a time and wait for an answer. You can also break down more complex requests into single steps.
  • Remember that it’s the disease, not the person. Your loved one’s behavior is sure to frustrate, enrage, and hurt you sometimes. That’s natural. But try not to blame him for the changes the disease has caused in him. 

 

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