Give The Gift of Cognitive Health

I had a conversation last week with a trainer for a large Assisted Living Facility corporation. She has the daunting task of re-training the staff of all the facilities in that organization on their approach with residents. In particular, she is working to train them to understand that their approach has a great impact on whether a resident will comply or take part in activities geared towards stimulating their cognition.

We talked about how she struggles to help the staff understand that, while it may seem easier in the short run, doing tasks FOR the residents actually has a negative impact on them long term.  It may seem easier to just take a senior by the hand and lead them where they need to go, or to manage their time and take responsibility for when/where they need to be.  But doing this causes them to relinquish the responsibility and starts a slow process of atrophy in the cognitive domain associated with that task.

As we talked I was reminded of the time I got my first gps tracker in my car.  I had just moved to Providence, RI and was taking regular trips into Boston, so the guidance was a huge relief.  In an astonishingly short period of time however, I became aware that I had surrendered my right to think for myself while driving. One day the GPS system stopped communicating with the satellites and I suddenly realized that I wasn’t sure where I was or how I got there, much less how to get where I wanted to go next. That was a scary realization of how quickly we relinquish a task when someone else takes over for us.

As a caregiver, friend or family member, when you take over task management for your senior loved one, it may seem quicker and easier at the time, but the long term impact on their cognitive health suffers greatly.  Practice a little patience, and know that for every task you allow them to complete, you give them the gift of brain exercise and overall cognitive health.  That gift is truly priceless.

Try These Exercises:

  • If you routinely drive a senior to the doctor or similar appointment or gathering: next time you get in the car, have them participate in guiding you to your location.  Ask them to tell you where you need to turn and when and get them involved in the navigation.
  • If you are a caregiver in a facility: rather than taking the resident to the cafeteria, ask them to lead you to it.  Make it a game!
  • Rather than maintaining their schedule, give your senior a calendar and have them add appointments as they are scheduled and task them with calling or reminding you the day before they need to go somewhere.
  • If your loved one watches sports: have them track their favorite team (or a local team) throughout the season, updating the schedule with all wins/losses and stats.

Jen McClurg Roth

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