People experiencing cognitive decline deal with a number of challenges surrounding their condition. In addition to accepting the often unpredictable course their dementia will take, they must figure out how to deal with becoming less independent. This can be extremely difficult, especially for people who spent years caring for others or living on their own.

Why visual cues?

As a caregiver, there are many things you can do to support your loved one as he or she handles losing his or her independence. One simple and effective way to help your relative maintain a sense of freedom is by using visual cues to prompt him or her to perform daily tasks. As his or her dementia progresses, your loved one may forget to do simple parts of his or her routine. These easy-to-communicate clues can jog your relative’s memory and help him or her maintain a high level of independence.

“Alzheimer’s can seriously affect communication skills.”

You might feel like visual prompts are excessive – after all, can’t you just verbally remind your loved one what he or she is supposed to do throughout the day? Alzheimer’s can have serious effects on communication skills, explained the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. This can make understanding and responding to spoken words quite challenging. In fact, the source noted that when you’re having a conversation with your loved one, he or she is likely paying closest attention to your body language, facial expressions and tone of voice as opposed to the actual words you’re saying.

When should I start using this form of communication? 

Everyone’s different, so it’s difficult to assign a timeline to dementia management. Visual cues are typically useful in the initial stages of the disease, however, right as communication skills begin to decline. The Alzheimer’s Association suggested using these hints once you notice changes in your loved one’s communicative behaviors. For example, implement them when he or she starts repeating words excessively, is unable to construct logical sentences, regularly loses thoughts in the middle of speaking, makes up words for common items, withdraws from speech or starts exclusively speaking his or her first language despite using a different tongue for years.You may need to leave visual reminders that prompt your love one to perform daily tasks, like brushing his or her teeth.
You may need to leave visual reminders that prompt your loved one to perform daily tasks, like brushing his or her teeth.

What are some examples of visual cues? 

The goal of these visual helpers is to present your loved one with an obvious task without making him or her feel dependent on your guidance to make it through the day. Caring.com explained that these aren’t meant to be instructions, but rather simple friendly reminders. The source pointed to these common examples of visual prompts that allow people to maintain their independence:

  • Brushing teeth/ other hygienic actions: Leave your relative’s toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and anything else he or she may need to start the day on the bathroom sink where he or she can see it right after waking up. This is a fairly obvious reminder for your loved one, and makes it easy for you to check and see if he or she picked up on the hint. The source noted that as the disease progresses, you may want to consider applying the toothpaste directly to the toothbrush to eliminate an extra action for your relative.
  • Putting on clothes: Leave entire outfits picked out in your loved one’s room so he or she doesn’t have to look for weather- or occasion-appropriate clothing and accessories. Be sure to include all elements of an outfit, including underwear, belts, socks and shoes. Trying to remember all these different components can be a difficult task, so selecting your loved one’s articles of clothing ahead of time can be extremely helpful.
  • Going out: Think of all the things you need to leave the house on any given day. Getting everything together can be extremely stressful, especially for people experiencing cognitive issues. If your relative is still able to leave the house alone, make sure he or she is prepared for the day by leaving necessary objects by the door. Check the weather report in the morning to see if he or she will need things like sunglasses, an umbrella, a jacket or hats and gloves. Leave his or her keys in an obvious spot as well so they aren’t forgotten on the way out.

As your loved one’s Alzheimer’s progresses, you may need to get more specific with your cues. For example, rather than simply leaving his or her toothbrush in an obvious place, you may need to point to it and mime brushing your own teeth to get the point across. Being as clear as possible without seeming demanding or overbearing is effective for issuing reminders as well as helping your loved one keep his or her sense of independence.