Supporting Seniors with Mild Cognitive Impairment: Care Guidance Helps People Halt Onset of Dementia
By Tina Graham, Chief Operating Officer of Guideway Care

As baby boomers age, they increasingly recognize changes in their own cognitive abilities that impact a range of daily functions, personal interactions and quality of life. While slight declines in memory, thinking and attention are considered a “normal” part of aging, symptoms are more pronounced in people diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).

Understanding MCI

It is estimated that 12% to 18% of adults aged 60 and older are living with MCI, a common condition that refers to a slight but noticeable decline in cognitive abilities, which is greater than the changes associated with normal aging, but not severe enough to be diagnosed as dementia.

MCI is a known precursor to more severe cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disease and may increase the risk of dementia caused by Alzheimer's disease or other brain disorders. While there is no single cause of MCI, it can be attributed to various factors, including age-related changes, certain medical conditions, medications and lifestyle factors.

If concerns go beyond what's considered normal and expected, it's important to see a doctor or specialist for a comprehensive screening and evaluation that can support early detection and diagnosis of MCI. This is critical to prompt intervention and the start of care management that can potentially slow down or prevent further cognitive decline.

Seeking Care

When seniors turn to physicians and nurses for medical care for MCI or to address their other healthcare questions, they often need assistance “navigating” the challenges of:

  • Understanding physician instructions
  • Following medication and treatment plans
  • Scheduling follow-up appointments and therapy
  • Arranging for transportation
  • Preparing nutritious meals
  • Arranging assistance for self-care
  • Coordinating all the other issues that come up in effectively handling impact of MCI

These problems are really magnified if you are discharged from the hospital. Today, this support is called “care guidance” and seniors should ask for these services every step of the way in their treatment in order to get the right care, at the right time, in the right place and with the right outcome.

How Care Guidance Works

Different providers have a variety of tools to try to help assist along the healthcare journey (text reminders, “portals”, answering services, etc.) but what seniors really appreciate is the personal assistance of “care guides,” the human beings who answer the phone whenever you or a family member calls for help. When a practice has care guides, it means that the patient has a partner who can help bridge between everyday life and your nurse or doctor questions. Care guides are trained to help find, understand and solve practical problems (like transportation or medication assistance) which means the patient can get faster responses from the same person over and over. Patients can rest assured that their clinical issues (such as with MCI or other disease problems) will be immediately escalated to the proper clinical care teams.

The human element of care guidance is what makes it so valuable to people who have memory issues, self-care challenges or other practical issues. This level of attention also helps people access the care they need. 

What You Can Do to Slow Cognitive Decline

Care for individuals with MCI aims to provide support and implement strategies to maintain cognitive function. Adopting certain lifestyle changes can help reduce risk factors for cognitive decline, including: 

  • Keep an active lifestyle and balanced diet
  • Maintain normal blood pressure, blood sugar and healthy weight
  • Be mentally and physically active, regularly performing light or moderate exercise
  • Engage in social interactions

Support for YOU – Not Just the Diagnosis

People with MCI require holistic, personalized support that revolves around them as a person, not just their diagnosis. That’s where care guidance helps. Care guides understand the individual's specific health needs and their socioeconomic condition.  

New perspectives from evaluating patients with MCI reveal some people have difficulties in managing their condition independently and require assisted care. Furthermore, family members and caregivers of MCI patient also experience an increased need for additional support and resources, particularly with non-clinical issues such as getting help to prepare meals, assisting with personal care such as bathing, or dressing and making sure that medication schedules are followed. 

Understanding the underlying health equity issues that many MCI patients potentially face in their daily lives helps to provide the most effective care. Today, these issues are called social determinants of health (SDoH): 

  • Safe housing, transportation and neighborhoods
  • Racism, discrimination and violence
  • Education, job opportunities and income
  • Access to nutritious foods and physical activity opportunities
  • Language and literacy skills

If you or a loved one is experiencing SDoH issues, the need to promptly identify and resolve them is critical since they could potentially lead to health deterioration, cognitive decline and hospitalization.

Humanizing Care Guidance

As we all know, the world is changing fast, and technology so often seems to be the first choice of big entities to “improve efficiency.” But technology is not always easy to navigate, and automated chatting is really not very good at helping get answers to complex questions or for following up on conversations that can go in multiple directions. Humans excel at those kinds of communications, in part because they can better recognize when the person on the other end is really understanding the information and is truly satisfied with the answers.

The simple reality is that our aging population deserves care guidance. It is simply a “must-have” component of modern-day care models. Increasingly, local and regional provider organizations, health systems and hospitals are offering these services to MCI patients and their families.

If your local healthcare providers or health plan are not making these “human” services available as a component of managed care – ask for them! Every senior needs this type of personalized care in their journey with MCI and other diseases. It’s all part of preventive care and the goal of maintaining cognitive health and wellness.

About the Author

Tina Graham, COO, Guideway Care, is an experienced health care executive versed in leading operations teams through the constantly shifting landscape of modern medicine.


Be the first to commment on this article.

Post a Comment