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8 Tips For Supporting People With Dementia During COVID-19

Caring for a person who has Alzheimer’s disease or another form dementia can be a full-time job on its own but it can be an even more daunting task in light of stay-at-home orders across the world. Older adults can be particularly vulnerable during natural disasters or extreme crisis, and this appears especially true during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

While we are still learning about how COVID-19 is impacting different segments (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic, etc.) of the population, there has been significant concern about how older adults may be more susceptible to this virus. In addition, many of us have become notably concerned about how someone with dementia will be impacted by COVID-19. From a medical neurocognitive perspective, this has yet to be fully understood but hopefully more information will become available in the future. From a lifestyle perspective, there are many ways in which we can help people with dementia try to navigate this current pandemic.

Since many people who have been diagnosed with dementia tend to be older, they might have difficulties in remembering safeguard procedures, such as wearing masks, or in understanding the public health information issued to them during televised briefings or on the radio. Ignoring the warnings and lacking sufficient self-quarantine measures could expose them and you to a higher chance of infection.

As your family is spending more time together at home for longer periods of time you may begin to notice cognitive and/or behavioral symptoms that you may have previously ignored, downplayed, or were not aware of earlier. In addition, if the person with dementia had been going to a day care facility that is currently shutdown you may be having difficulty navigating day-to-day life without the usual help you previously had prior to the pandemic.

Dr. Burchette Neuropsychologist
New Jersey Memory Center

Here are 8 tips that you can try to implement into your stay-at-home routine:

  1. Break out photographs (old photos and objects from the past, rearranging them, may help to recover the memory of personal experiences).

  2. Take out objects and old newspaper clippings (collecting them may help the person to retrieve the name of the objects and related facts).

  3. Listen to old songs (useful for arousing positive emotions and memories).

  4. Implement daily movement/exercise routines (the person could walk in the wider spaces of the apartment or house or, if possible, on the terrace. Simple exercises, such as getting up and sitting down from the chair or other at-home exercises are also encouraged).

  5. Give them small household tasks such as dusting/cleaning, arranging drawers, hand washing small linen, folding towels, or sewing.

  6. Relatives not living with the person can keep in touch via telephone or video calls (Facetime, Skype, Zoom, Hangouts, Marco Polo, etc.). Be calm and smile during calls; take your time. A few calls with a calm tone are better than frequent hasty calls that come off as rushed.

  7. Keep Prescriptions Filled. Caregivers may also want to ask their pharmacist or doctor about filling prescriptions for a greater number of days to reduce trips to the pharmacy. Also inquire about whether the pharmacy has delivery services available to help limit trips to the pharmacy.

  8. It is also important to discuss alternative plans for care management if the primary caregiver should become sick. It is important for families to anticipate that less help and support may be available because of stay-at-home orders and social distancing. It’s always better to have a plan than to scramble on the fly.

Given stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures, there is increased concern about limited human interaction. Many people may begin to feel trapped and this can lead to irritability, depression, anxiety, and frustration (among other things). Another area of concern for some individuals with dementia is that there is an increased risk of sunset syndrome. As such, it will be helpful if that person is able to go out on landings, porches, and decks or in the courtyard can help to restore their orientation.

Stay-at-home orders have put caregivers on 24-hour duty as extended family and friends are trying to keep a safe social distance. Many primary caregivers are not good about asking for help even as care responsibilities escalate. It’s important for extended family members and friends to be proactive during the current crisis in asking how they can help out.

Of course, there are many challenges that the individual with dementia and their caregiver will need to consider during this time. There are various kinds of dementia and various stages of dementia, so there are certainly people with dementia who would be able to understand that there’s a risky infection and that they need to wash their hands and limit their exposure to other people. But once dementia progresses to the point where someone has significant short-term memory problems or significant trouble understanding reasoning and thinking about proper behavior, at that point it really does fall on the family and/or caregivers. During this pandemic we are all acclimating to a new routine and the more information we have will make it easier to adjust.

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