Getting older can be scary. The media has conditioned us to equate aging with fearful things like falling, hearing loss and Alzheimer’s disease. You know it is true. Your aunt calls you the wrong name at a family gathering and everyone starts whispering, “It must be dementia!”
It might be Mild Cognitive Impairment
As seniors show signs of aging there is a lot of focus on Alzheimer’s disease, but there are other memory and cognitive issues that might be at play. One of the most common is Mild Cognitive Impairment (referred to as “MCI”).
MCI is an affliction many seniors experience when cognitive skills decline and memory loss starts to impact daily functioning. People with MCI can have problems with word-finding. They often mix up names and faces. They can be overwhelmed when faced with decisions and complicated tasks. They can even forget to take medications as prescribed, a dangerous effect of MCI.
[Mild Cognitive Impairment: a list of symptoms to be on the lookout for]
Many people consider MCI “pre-Alzheimer’s” or the initial stage of dementia. However, many individuals with MCI never actually develop dementia, and the memory deficits associated with MCI can remain stable for years and their cognitive impairment can even improve over time.
Assisted living is a good alternative to social isolation
While those affected by MCI can live at home with some assistance, many individuals with MCI thrive and even improve in assisted living communities. This is because the supportive services and programs that are offered in well-managed assisted living communities are designed to promote overall brain health and enhance cognitive skills with the goal of improving memory and slowing down cognitive decline.
Also, communal living is an antidote to the isolation and loneliness that seniors with MCI often face which can result in accelerated cognitive decline. Sometimes people with MCI deliberately un-engage socially because they are embarrassed about their memory loss. In other cases life’s circumstances and the aging process itself causes isolation, such as losing the ability to drive.
Unfortunately, the mandated social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic caused many seniors to experience debilitating loneliness. Healthcare and senior living professionals have seen a rise in MCI because of this forced isolation due to Covid-19.
[Ways to Combat Loneliness in Older Adulthood]
In fact, research has shown that maintaining an active social life is one of the best things you can do to slow the progression of cognitive decline and memory loss. The socialization that comes with community living, including dining with others, is one of the biggest benefits for someone living with mild memory loss. Living at home alone, even with caretakers coming into the house for companionship, doesn’t offer the same level of involvement in community life and engagement with other people that supportive communal living can provide.
Assisted living boosts cognitive health in other ways too
In addition to offering lots of opportunities for social interaction, many assisted living communities also offer healthy cuisine, brain and heart-healthy exercise classes, and medication reminders. Additionally, participating in inspiring activities for seniors, such as educationally focused daily programming, keeps minds active and engaged in learning new things. All of this can actually boost brain function and enhance cognition and memory.
Tips for what to do next
If you are actively thinking about and searching for an assisted living community for your loved one who has mild memory loss be sure to ask plenty of questions about the quality of the daily programs offered at the community.
Many senior communities now offer sophisticated adult life-long learning with guest speakers, meaningful crafts and workshops, and cultural excursions. Bingo and watching movies can be fun and relaxing, and they have their place in a senior’s life, but more stimulating programming is much better for an adult with MCI.
Simply learning about MCI and proven strategies for coping with it can be beneficial.
You should also consider joining a local Support Group or attending a welcoming and inclusive Memory Café.