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Easing the downsizing process for a loved one with cognitive impairment


A major part of the downsizing process is making decisions about belongings. These decisions can be exhausting. For those with dementia and other cognitive issues, the process can also be scary and confusing. Our team has worked with many clients with cognitive impairment and their families. Here are some tips we’ve gathered to support your loved one through their process.


  • A main goal is to make them feel competent, safe, respected, and that their belongings are valued. Focus on building trust and meeting them wherever they are.
  • Have low expectations and little agenda for the first day or two of the project. The goal is to make them feel safe and comfortable with this process.
  • Start with the least threatening and least emotional space. Work up to more challenging spaces.
  • Work very slowly. Let them tell stories and listen.
  • Do not rush them to make decisions or rush others who are helping. Working too quickly could make them feel agitated.
  • Treat them like they’re in charge; you are partnering with them, not taking over. Be kind, not condescending. Partner, not parent.
  • Ask their opinion and give them choices, but do not overwhelm them with a continual stream of questions. Use a “this or that” approach to decisions when only one choice will work. Hold up items as you’re asking “this or that” questions for visual cues.
  • Have one person be their main point of contact during decision making, rather than having several different people approach them with questions and ideas.
  • Admire how organized they are and what good systems they have already put into place.
  • Keep their established systems or locations for items as much as possible. Change can be very confusing. Just purge duplicates/overflow items to a more manageable level. Progress, not perfection.
  • Give visual cues such as a written, paper checklist of basic tasks to be done for the upcoming day, a picture of the school or charity that will benefit from their donations, labels on bins/shelves, and a map of the space when the job is complete so they know where to find things.
  • Praise them for the steps they are taking and let them know you are learning from them and that their ideas are valuable.

Would you like more downsizing tips for helping your loved one with cognitive impairment? Contact us and we’d be happy to send them to you.