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Cognitive Problems: A Caregiver's Guide

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. 


Avoid Caregiver Burnout: Take Care of Yourself

Although it’s often the last thing on a caregiver’s mind, it’s important to focus on yourself, too. Remember that your physical and mental health are crucial to the well-being of both yourself and your loved one. If you push yourself too hard and burn out or get sick, who will take care of your loved one? Here are some tips:

  • Getassistance. If you’re new at caregiving, don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed to ask for help. Talk to relatives, friends, and neighbors to see what they can offer. Find out what’s available from local resources.  Remember: You can’t do this on your own.
  • Get support. You don’t only need support for your loved one with cognitive problems – you need it for yourself. So lean on your family and friends. Consider joining a local support group for caregivers. If you’re overwhelmed, call a hotline or consider scheduling an appointment with a therapist.
  • Take breaks. Pace yourself. Try to take small breaks – even just a few minutes to yourself – every day. Then build longer periods of time away each week. Just going out with a friend for a walk or a bite to eat could give your mood a big boost.
  •  Forgive yourself. No matter how good and compassionate a caregiver you are, things won’t go smoothly all the time. You’re going to get angry and frustrated with your loved one. You’ll make mistakes and feel guilty. It’s inevitable, so when it happens, don’t beat yourself up. If you’re feeling down, remember that caregiving is always a tough and messy business. Your loved one may not be able to tell you, but you’re a good and courageous person for taking it on.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on May 26, 2014

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