HABIT Offers Strategies, Tools for People with Cognitive Impairment

Patient Expert

I wish that when Mom started showing signs of cognitive impairment, she had had some kind of professional support. And I wish that Dad had some coaching as well.

More and more, programs are coming on line to provide this kind of support. There are specific programs designed to help people with cognitive impairment function. And there are some programs focused on helping their partners negotiate the tricky terrain of dementia. And there are even programs that offer assistance to both the person with the dementia and his or her partner. For instance, the Mayo Clinic has developed a special program called Healthy Action to Benefit Independence and Thinking (HABIT). This 10-day outpatient program is focused on assisting people who have been diagnosed mild-cognitive dementia or an early stage of dementia as well as their support partner.

The HABIT program is based on research that has found that people who have MCI actually benefit from creating new habits that can help them compensate for certain memory deficits. These habits can help the person who has dementia continue to be as independent as possible, improve overall health and continue to participate in regular daily activities. The program is designed to encourage the following benefits:

  • Use of a daily memory tool that helps the person maintain his or her independence and quality of life.
  • Development of enhanced knowledge, skills and resources that the person with memory issues can use.
  • Creation of strategies for coping and self-care.
  • Management of depression, anxiety and other psychiatric symptoms.
  • Improved physical condition, including balance and flexibility.
  • Creation of supportive relationships and development of a network for future support.
  • Specific techniques that can be used to manage communication and changing relationships.
  • Identification of specific technologies that are available to support current and future independence.

The HABIT program is broken up to cover five specific components. The first involves memory compensation training. In this portion of the program the person who has cognitive impairment as well the partner work with a cognitive therapist to learn how to incorporate a tool that helps with memory tracking and organization. This enables the participants to learn habits that minimize the symptoms of mental decline and, thus, continue to maintain a level of independence.

The second component focuses on brain fitness. This part of the workshop focuses on computerized brain fitness program. Participants also will learn about available brain fitness resources, including books, computer games and websites.

The third component involves patient and partner group therapy sessions which allow participants to express concerns, develop insights and have a support network.

The fourth component focuses on mind-body movement since research suggests that regular physical activity is a preventative measure for cognitive decline. The Mayo Clinic program focuses on meditation and yoga, as these are known to reduce stress and anxiety as well as lower blood pressure.

The fifth component looks at wellness education specifically designed to support the health of the brain as well as the body. Participants learn about mild cognitive impairment and dementia as well as what they can do to remain well (diet, supplements, exercise, sleep hygiene and avoiding depression).

And the best part of the program? "The special thing that participants soon discover is that HABIT is a place where imperfection, fear and sadness are not only allowed; they are embraced and welcomed with compassion," wrote Angela Lunde, a Mayo Clinic health education outreach coordinator, in a blog about the program. "We feel connection and belonging when we are around others who share in our experiences, our imperfections and our struggles. In this way, we are connecting on the deepest levels that call to us as human beings. And with this connection comes the courage to be who we are, and to believe that who we are memory loss or not is more than enough."

If you can't get to Minnesota in order to participate in the Mayo Clinic's program, do ask whether there are similar types of programs and support in the community where you live. Don't do what my parents did - hunker down without getting any help. Building a community of support can make this journey a lot easier to travel for both the person who has cognitive impairment and for the partner who provides support.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

Lunde, A. (2013). HABIT helps people find courage in facing dementia. Mayo Clinic.

Mayo Clinic. (2010). HABIT: Healthy Action to Benefit Independence & Thinking.