Caring for Seniors with Cognitive & Mental Health Challenges: Tips for Health Care Assistants

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As people age, cognitive function naturally slows down, but sometimes, factors like dementia can play a role in impacting some senior’s abilities to perform normal everyday tasks. It’s said that nearly 20 percent of seniors may also experience forms of mental illness, and the causes and symptoms vary depending on the individual.

As the health care field improves its understanding of the causes of cognitive and mental health challenges in seniors, there are newer and better ways to provide care for those who are affected. With the right care plan, seniors who face these challenges are still able to lead fulfilling lives!

If you’re considering becoming a health care assistant, read on to learn some ways you may be able to spot cognitive & mental illness risks early on, as well as some tips for providing care for seniors who face these challenges.

Causes of Cognitive & Mental Health Challenges in Seniors

In many cases, normal physical and emotional stresses can put elderly people at risk for developing anxiety and depression. These stresses include:

  • Physical disabilities
  • Long-term illnesses like cancer or heart disease
  • Dementia
  • Change of environment, like moving into assisted living
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Medication
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Poor diet or malnutrition

How Health Care Assistants Might Recognize the Symptoms

Health care assistant training teaches the difference between normal changes associated with aging and potentially serious symptoms that may point to cognitive or mental health challenges. In your career as a caregiver, here are a few signs to watch out for when working with elderly patients:

  • Long-lasting sad or depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
  • Unexplained sleep changes or loss of energy
  • Problems with concentration
  • Changes in weight or a decreased appetite
  • Memory loss
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, helplessness
  • Physical aches that can’t otherwise be explained
  • Trouble working with numbers or handling finances

As a health care assistant, you won’t be expected to diagnose and resolve cognitive or mental health challenges on your own. It’s a good idea to speak with other members of the health care team if you see any warning signs.

Providing care is a combined effort, and with the help of families, doctors and mental health professionals, your patients can receive the individual care they need to lead an enjoyable life.

How Health Care Assistants Can Make a Difference

Here’s a look at a few activities that can help seniors improve their mood, increase cognitive function and maintain an active lifestyle:

Learning new skills: Whether you’re providing home care or working in a residence, there are plenty of classes for art, language, or computer skills that are available for seniors. By encouraging seniors to learn a new skill, you’ll be helping them to retain new information and get some social time; both of which improve cognitive function.

Daily conversation: Engaging in regular conversation with seniors encourages them to recall memories, form opinions and express themselves. You may also want to encourage them to have a weekly phone call or visit with an old friend or family member, which can deepen their sense of purpose and keep them from feeling isolated.

Maintaining a social life: By maintaining a social life, seniors have something to look forward to, which is a great mood booster. Group activities like bird watching, bingo, or even playing cards can strengthen cognitive skills as well.

Providing care for seniors that are faced with cognitive and mental health challenges takes patience, compassion and dedication. Seeing the positive impact that the right combination of strategies has had on someone’s life will be one of the most rewarding parts of your health care assistant career!

Do you know of any other tips for health care assistants who care for seniors with cognitive or mental health challenges?

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