Mild Cognitive Impairment in Seniors: What to Do When It’s Not Alzheimer’s

When we think of “cognitive impairments” in older adults, we often think of Alzheimer’s disease. After all, cognition (the mental process that includes perception, reasoning, and judgment), is often hindered by neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s.
However, Alzheimer’s is far from the only disease that affects the brain.[1. “Types of dementia,”] It is entirely possible for your loved one to have mild cognitive impairment that stems from a different source.

What is mild cognitive impairment?

Mild cognitive impairment is not the name of a particular illness, but a group of symptoms. Most of these symptoms pertain to how the brain processes information. Some of the most common problems people have with this impairment are related to memory. There may also be issues with judgment, thinking, and language. Sometimes the symptoms worsen, and a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or another dementia-related disease is made. However, not everyone who is cognitively impaired will develop dementia.

What causes mild cognitive impairment?

The causes of mild cognitive impairment are not clear, but the condition shares some risk factors with Alzheimer’s, including:

  • Being age 65 or over
  • A history of cognitive or dementia-related diseases in the family
  • A diagnosis of high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, high cholesterol, heart disease, and substance abuse disorders
  • Lack of exercise

Making changes in your loved one’s routine

Many times, you may have to make changes in your loved one’s routine in order to ensure their health and safety. Here are some suggestions:
Health care. If your loved one is able, have a discussion with them about making an Advance Directive or a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. This lets other family members know about their medical choices in advance, and appoints someone to carry them out if needed.
Home care. Managing a household can be difficult for those with cognitive impairment. Cooking, cleaning, remembering to take medications, and other tasks can suddenly become burdensome. Offer to help your loved one with these tasks, or consider hiring outside help.
Finances. Paying bills, understanding insurance, and keeping important records may become too difficult for your loved one with impaired cognition. Not only is it a good idea to do this with (or for) your loved one, but see if they’re willing to name someone as their financial Power of Attorney[2.“Financial Powers of Attorney,”] as well. This can provide a safety net in the event they’re no longer able to make their own financial decisions.
Transportation. If your loved one insists on driving, continued evaluations of their driving abilities is absolutely necessary. Regular consultations with their physician are essential as well. This will increase the likelihood that their cognition hasn’t declined to the point where self-transport is no longer safe. If things have progressed to this point, a home care agency can provide an aide to transport your loved one wherever they need to go.
In addition to making lifestyle changes, emotional support is also needed. Cognitive impairment can make victims feel powerless, frustrated, and angry at themselves and those around them. Remind them that they are not to blame, and help them find constructive ways to express their feelings.

Address mild cognitive impairment right away

Friends and family members are often the first to recognize mild cognitive impairment in their loved ones. However, you may be reluctant to bring up what you observe because they seem similar to ordinary, age-related changes in the brain. Or maybe you’re afraid to face the possibility that the changes may mean something more serious, like Alzheimer’s.
These feelings are understandable. However, the best thing you can do for your loved one with mild cognitive impairment is address it right away. If you do, they will have a better chance of retaining their mental abilities, and successfully coping with any unavoidable losses.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.

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