Caring for someone who is living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia can be challenging, and even more so during significant changes to their structure and routines during a pandemic.
First, the Alzheimer’s Association points out that people who are living with dementia are not at a higher risk for coming down with symptoms related to the novel coronavirus (aka COVID-19), which is a respiratory infection. However, these people tend to already be in high risk groups such as advanced age and living with one or more chronic conditions.
The challenge for caregivers of people who are living with dementia during this time of reduced social contact, change in routine, and wearing additional personal protective equipment (PPE), is to help the person maintain well-being amidst confusion. In addition, there are some basic safety precautions that need to be respected so that the chances of spreading the illness remains low.
Recommendations for optimal care for someone who is living with dementia while adhering to temporary guidelines during widespread illness outbreak:
- Help with regular hand washing, and then make sure to moisturize those hands too. Show them as many times as necessary what to do by modeling, not just telling, and if possible, make it interesting with a new soap scent or lotion they might like. Consider making a sign that they can easily understand to guide them through the process.
- Even if it seems like they do not understand why they can’t have visitors or other changes in their environment, explain it calmly as often as needed. If you can remain steady, it won’t seem as scary to them. Let them know it is temporary and that you will be informing them as the situation evolves.
- Have a plan if either you as the primary family caregiver or another caregiver might not be able to provide care for a time for any reason (illness, work, visitor restrictions, etc.).
- Sometimes a person who is living with dementia may not understand how to answer the phone anymore or participate in a video chat in place of a traditional visit. If they are living in a facility, ask the staff for ideas on ways to stay engaged.
- Now more than ever it is important to create an environment that is familiar to the person living with dementia. Having as many of their favorites handy, like books, movies, blanket, pillow, music, snacks and more.
- Continue to take care of yourself as a caregiver and don’t let any additional stress bring you down. Things may simply be out of your control and best intentions for a time.
Visit the Alzheimer’s Association website for more specific caregiving tips as well as to connect with their Help Center. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America also provides resources for caregivers on their website.