How to Support Your Parents Through Cognitive Decline
Are your parents showing signs of cognitive loss or dementia? Do you suspect they may have Alzheimer’s disease? Read further to see how you can support them in getting a cognitive evaluation.
You were just home for the holidays and noticed your parents seem to be slipping cognitively.
Is it time to panic? What can be done? Should you even say anything?
I know it can be a distressing and worrisome experience. Whether it’s forgetting how to do once familiar tasks or having difficulty following conversations, cognitive decline can take a toll on both your parents and your family. And bringing it up can at a minimum be awkward or worse, cause a huge argument. Here are some tips for helping your parents through this difficult time.
Understand the Symptoms
The first step in helping your parents is to understand what cognitive decline is and what signs to look out for. Common symptoms of cognitive decline include impaired judgment, difficulty with problem solving, changes in personality or behavior, and memory loss. Be clear on what you noticed, so that you can plan for the next best steps.
The causes for cognitive loss can be many! There may be a new medication causing some trouble. Isolation and loneliness may lead to depressive symptoms that can present as a slowing of cognition. Some medical conditions or vitamin deficiencies can also present with slowed thinking.
How to bring up your concerns
Please begin by asking questions. We all want to maintain control in our lives – even if (or especially when) we are beginning to have cognitive loss. Our feelings of autonomy, agency and control will remain. And, all of us want those honored. Let your parents know you’ve noticed a few things that concern you and you’re wondering if they’ve noticed it too? If they say yes – ask what they’ve done to investigate and how can you be of help? If they say no (which is very common – only about 50% of people with cognitive loss recognize the changes), ask them if you could assist them in speaking with a physician to check out some conditions that may be affecting the thinking process.
Is getting a check-up worthwhile?
Yes! Issues associated with cognition or memory loss that can be corrected should be dealt with as soon as possible to prevent irreversible damage. If there are vitamin deficiencies, mood disorders or metabolic issues, finding and correcting them can improve cognitive loss.
Lifestyle modifications can slow the progression of any of dementia – Alzheimer’s disease being the most common, but vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, dementia associated with Parkinson’s disease, and Frontotemporal dementia.
Knowledge is Power
Knowing what you are dealing with and building support to adapt and prepare for cognitive changes is the best way forward. Put your energy into actions that can mitigate the disease progression such as cognitive stimulation therapy, beginning an exercise program, looking into research studies that may help understand the disease, modifying lifestyle that may be worsening the disease process (change in diet, for example) rather than wondering what is causing cognitive changes.
No matter how hard it might seem, your support and concern can go a long way in helping your parents navigate these changes. With the right guidance and resources, you can help them to maintain their quality of life and independence for as long as possible.
Keep talking with your parents, educate yourself on the topic, reach out to professionals who can provide helpful advice. Your love and care is an invaluable tool that could make all the difference in your parents’ lives.
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