5 Tips for Caregiving to People with Cognitive Impairment

Working as a caregiver can be challenging at times, but it is also rewarding. Caregiving allows you to make positive and impactful connections across different barriers. A common barrier that caregivers experience is working with people that have different cognitive impairments. Cognitive impairments can range from memory issues, difficulty learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect daily life. They can also present in a wide variety of severity, and affect different age groups. Here are a few tips for creating healthy and positive environments while caregiving to someone with a cognitive impairment. 

Set a Positive Mood for Interaction

There are so many steps you can take when you first start caregiving to create a positive environment during the session. Before you go to your session, make sure you know exactly what kind of care you will be giving. Ask their family to see if there is anything important you should know before going. If you are meeting the person for the first time, introduce yourself. Tell them about your hobbies and what you are interested in. Give them the chance to share that information back with you if they are able to and wish to. Ask them for their name, and be open and willing to listen. Establishing open communication right off the bat will set the mood for positive interaction throughout your entire caregiving session. 

State your Message Clearly

A big part of open communication comes with delivery. Especially when caregiving to those with cognitive impairment, communication can at times be difficult and confusing. It is very important to state each of your messages clearly. Make sure the person you are caring for knows what you are doing for them and how you will do it. Speak deliberately and kindly. Pause to make sure they don’t have any questions. Always be willing to answer any questions they do have. In some cases, the person you are caring for may have trouble hearing you, or forget what you have told them. It is important to practice patience and eliminate any confusion. 

 Break Down Activities into a Series of Steps

An effective way to take away any confusion or discomfort while caregiving is to break down the activities you are doing into a series of steps. Outline the activity to them in the beginning and explain how you will assist and what exactly you will do. Before each step in the activity, make sure they don’t have any questions and that they are comfortable with carrying out the activity. Whether it is a simple companionship activity, doing some housekeeping, preparing meals, or working on mobility exercises, outlining what you will do for them in steps will create a comforting environment while caregiving. 

Respond with Affection and Reassurance 

If the person you are caring for expresses concern or asks questions about what you may have planned for the caregiving day, be sure to always respond to them with affection and reassurance. Some cognitive impairments make it challenging for people to learn new things, or do everyday tasks that we often take for granted. It is important to always be mindful of that barrier and reassure who you are caregiving for, so they feel comfortable to tell you what is working for them and what may need changing or improving. 

Listen with your Eyes, Ears, and Heart

Effective listening is a crucial part of establishing effective communication skills with the person you are caregiving for. This listening goes beyond just what the person you are working with may say to you. It is important to use all of your senses. It may be hard for some people with cognitive disabilities to verbally express how they are feeling about certain things. Make sure to watch their body language and notice if they are ever presenting themselves with any sort of discomfort. Listen with your heart too! Always be gentle and understanding. 

Even though caregiving comes with its challenges, it is always meant to be a positive experience for everyone involved. When matched with a new family, it will take some time to adjust. Using these five steps as guidelines for interaction will make that adjustment all the easier. Once you establish a long-term caregiving relationship, your time spent with each other will be even more rewarding.

Emma Belk

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