Residents with cognitive impairments present different difficulties for the caregiver than other residents. Cognitive impairment can be anything from Alzheimer’s to a brain injury. Understanding cognitive impairments and how to provide care to a cognitively impaired resident will help you succeed as a caregiver while giving the best care possible to all of your residents.

What is Cognitive Impairment?

Cognitive impairment is any deficit in basic brain function, making it difficult for the affected resident to communicate clearly with the people they interact with. Common causes of cognitive impairment include Alzheimer’s, dementia, a stroke, a brain injury, and developmental problems. Because of these impairments, communication with an impaired resident may be more difficult. These residents can also display behavior that is aggressive or impulsive, memory loss, and a tendency to wander off. To circumvent these difficulties, it is important to be prepared ahead of time to find some way to make your resident feel more comfortable and understood.

Review the Resident’s Care Plan

Each resident will have a care plan created for them, based on their diagnoses and level of impairment. The care plan for each resident will include medications, behavioral issues, and other pertinent information regarding the care of the resident. It helps to be as educated as possible about the behavior and medical interventions of your resident so you can provide the best care possible and be prepared to deal with any issues that come up.

Keep Communication Simple

Residents with cognitive impairments often have a hard time communicating. Because of this, it is important to make sure that you know your resident’s limitations and communicate with them in a manner they are best able to understand and respond to. Use simple language instead of medical terms where applicable and be sure to include the family and loved ones of the resident in these conversations when they are present. When asking questions, ask direct and specific questions without talking down to the resident. Remember to limit discussions to one topic at a time to limit the likelihood of misunderstandings or confusion.

If the resident is nonverbal, provide options for them to reply in writing or using their body language. Questions that can be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No” are best, as they do not require much interpretation. Speak slowly and maintain eye contact with your resident regardless of their verbal status. Repeat questions or statements as needed. If necessary for understanding, use real objects around you to demonstrate the ideas you are trying to communicate.

Show the Resident Respect

Cognitive impairments do not always equate to intellectual impairments, and even when they do, every resident deserves to be treated in a respectful way. The challenges presented in caring for a cognitively impaired resident should never be taken out on the resident. Practice patience with your resident and give them the opportunity to reply in their own time. Becoming frustrated with the resident will only serve to exacerbate the situation and prolong the situation for you both.

Whether or not they have a cognitive impairment, each resident is a human being with thoughts and feelings of their own. If it starts to be difficult to maintain your composure when dealing with impaired residents, try putting yourself in their shoes and realizing how frustrating it must be on their end as well. Remember to treat them with compassion and empathy and use humor to relate to them if they respond well to that kind of communication.

Cognitive impairments can cause stress and challenges for caregivers but knowing what to expect and being prepared to face those challenges will make you the best caregiver you can be, and your residents will be all the better for it.