Mild Cognitive Impairment Symptom: Hesitancy in Following Steps and Sequences

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Note: Whether a glitch is normal or indicates a problem depends on many factors best evaluated by a professional, such as a geriatric psychiatrist or neuropsychologist. It's important to realize that changes in cognition and memory tend to fall along a spectrum. This symptom is considered a sign of concern that warrants an evaluation if it happens consistently or begins to interfere with daily life, especially if this is a change (new or different).

Why it happens

Following steps and sequences involves short-term memory, logic, and persistence -- skills that can become more challenging. In general, at first long lists of instructions become frustrating but shorter or simpler instructions remain manageable. Whether a sequence is short or long, though, the person may seem more tentative.

What you can do

  • Simplify, simplify, simplify. That's the recipe for reduced frustration.

  • Be encouraging if you see hesitation; try not to show impatience.

  • Use teamwork to figure out instruction manuals and other complicated lists of directions.

  • Request one errand at a time, for example, rather than a series of three things.

  • Don't encourage the person to attempt complicated recipes when cooking unless you're prepared to guide him or her step by step.

  • Write down directions rather than giving them verbally; even then, the fewer steps there are, the easier they are to follow.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio