Dementia or Alzheimer’s During COVID-19
With the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic continuing to disrupt lives around the globe, caretakers must use extra precautions when caring for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Since coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-2019) has upset daily schedules, caregivers have the daunting task of explaining to those with a dementia-related illness why they cannot make trips to their favorite places, visit their doctor’s office in person, or continue other routine activities.
Caregivers can expect to have this ongoing discussion since the older adult may forget what was previously explained about the coronavirus. Dementia, which causes memory loss and impairs thinking skills, worsens over time. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia.
Beth Kallmyer, vice president of care and support for the Alzheimer’s Association, recommends caregivers remain calm when discussing changes to daily routines since people with dementia-related illnesses mirror those around them. For example, caregivers who show signs of stress will trigger stress in the person with dementia.
Kallmyer suggests caregivers stressed out over the coronavirus outbreak find a way to manage their stress. Some stress-reducers could include limiting media consumption about COVID-19, practicing meditation, or exercising.
Protecting Against COVID-19
It is also important for caregivers to take steps to reduce the risk of exposing older adults to the coronavirus, a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person.
Health officials believe the coronavirus is transmitted when an infected person who coughs or sneezes sends respiratory droplets in the air that can land on the mouth, nose, or eyes of a person within 3 to 6 feet.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends not touching your face and washing your hands, especially:
- After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
- After using the restroom
- After contact with animals or pets
- Before eating or preparing food
- Before and after providing routine care for someone who needs assistance
People with dementia may need daily reminders to wash their hands and to be shown how to do it for 20 seconds based on the CDC’s recommendation.
Caregivers could place signs in the bathroom, by the kitchen sink, and in other places as hand-washing reminders. If the person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia cannot get to a sink, the CDC suggests using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
Caregivers are also urged to clean and disinfect frequently touched objects such as countertops, tables, doorknobs, handles, light switches, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
In another move to protect seniors, the CDC suggests asking the older adult’s doctor or pharmacist to fill prescriptions from a 30-day supply to a 90-day supply to avoid having to go to the pharmacy.
Watching for COVID-19 symptoms
People with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can get confused with the changes due to COVID-19, which is why creating alternative schedules can help them adjust to new daily routines.
However, increased confusion is generally the first symptom of any illness for people with a dementia-related illness, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. So, if a person shows rapidly increased confusion, caregivers, or the older adult’s family member, should contact the person’s health care provider for direction.
COVID-19 symptoms can appear two to 14 days after exposure, according to the CDC. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
The CDC recommends getting medical attention immediately when a person develops emergency COVID-19 warning signs such as persistent pain or pressure in the chest, and new confusion or inability to arouse. The person’s doctor can also provide guidance to family members and caregivers on specific steps for caring for someone who has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and contracts coronavirus.
Staying Active In Self-Isolation
Since health officials believe one-on-one contact is the primary way people contract COVID-19, governors nationwide have issued stay-at-home orders to help limit the spread of the coronavirus. For many older adults, including those with dementia-related illnesses, this means staying indoors and limiting outside visitors to their homes.
While in self-isolation, it’s important to keep older adults active to fill the void of regular activities lost due to COVID-19, according to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), a non-profit organization, based in New York City, that provides support to individuals, families, and caregivers affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
So, caregivers can do simple, but beneficial activities, as recommended by the AFA, that include:
1. Reminiscing. Looking at family photo albums or reflecting on positive things of the past helps with memory recall, mental alertness, and mood.
2. Activities involving the hands. Doing laundry, folding towels, matching socks, working on arts and crafts projects, for example, involves the sense of touch or tactile stimulation.
3. Brain exercises. Doing word puzzles, reading books, and playing memory games keeps the mind active and improves memory.
4. Spending time outside. Going for a walk or sitting on the porch improves mental and physical health.
5. Staying connected. Caregivers can help the person with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease stay socially connected through phone calls, emails, social media, mailing cards or letters, or video chats via FaceTime or Skype.
Most importantly, caretakers can ask the older adult what he or she would enjoy doing and help them to do it. Some adults, for example, like to sweep while others may like to bake or help with the laundry to feel useful.
For those who miss traveling, the AFA has the Virtual Therapeutic Program, which features virtual tours of different cities, fitness classes, Broadway singer performances, and more.
COVID-19 has caused fear, anxiety, and separation of family and close friends. So, families can help their loved ones with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by working with caregivers to create a meaningful daily plan.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the activities and how they are completed are not as important as the “joy and sense of accomplishment the person gets from doing it.”