Like many of you we have been ordered to “shelter in place” (Beth in Michigan, Laurie in California) to help curb or eradicate the COVID-19 virus. Although it is an inconvenience, we cannot help but think of all the caregivers for relatives with dementia.
Adult Day Centers are closed. Some family members are working from home, making it difficult to give full attention to their relative. Family members and friends can only visit with relatives in assisted living or skilled nursing communities through the window or on the phone or, in some cases, not at all. Caregivers caring for a partner or a parent at home may find it especially stressful as there may be no one who can stop by and provide a break.
Cancelled flights have separated adult children living a distance from a parent with dementia. From a daughter who lives far away from parents who are home alone, desperate about what to do after her flight was cancelled:
“I have not seen my parents in 6 months and was planning to visit in late March until the COVID-19 virus. My mom’s doctor said contracting an illness like pneumonia could have devastating effects on her FTD (Frontal Temporal Dementia) prognosis; I presume COVID-19 could be a similarly bad situation. My dad is with her, but he has heart problems and an underlying respiratory condition. What would happen if one of them became ill with COVID-19? I am frantic not knowing what to do.”
Whether family members live with, close by or far from their relative with memory loss, it can be a stressful time. Here are some suggestions that may help you:
- Know signs and symptoms of the virus. If you suspect your relative may have COVID-19, contact their doctor immediately. The number of testing sites offering testing is increasing daily. Learn more at the Center for Disease Control website or your county health agency.
- Know other illnesses that may cause increased confusion or agitation in people with dementia: Infections, dehydration, fever, and pain. If in doubt, call your doctor.
- Minimize your relative’s contact with other people. Older adults are more vulnerable to this virus than younger populations.
- Wash hands thoroughly throughout the day. Having favorite music in the background or washing hands together may help your relative be more willing to wash her hands. If this is not possible, try using hand sanitizer often. Check the Environmental Protection Agency website for recommended products to sanitize surfaces.
- Ask your relative’s doctor about filling prescriptions for more days. This may reduce the number of trips to the pharmacy. Pharmacies are considered an essential business and are open.
- Some essential businesses are abbreviating their hours. Call ahead if you are planning to go to the grocery store, the bank, etc.
- Some home care agencies are open for business. If you are feeling more stressed, and a home care agency is already providing care to your relative, consider asking for more hours. If you are not using home care services, consider calling and asking if they are taking new clients. There may be a shortage of home care workers, but it is definitely worth asking.
Caring throughout the day
- The book Best Friends Approach to Dementia Care, by our dear colleagues David Troxel and Virginia Bell, offers information and strategies to help caregivers get through the long days of caregiving. Caregivers have and will surely find this timeless book helpful.
- A person may become more confused because their routine has been disrupted. Try to stick to the same daily routine each day. If confusion leads to behavioral problems, our book Coping with Behavior Change in Dementia may be a helpful resource.
- Eliminate coverage about the virus on your TV or computer. People with dementia may not understand it and become frightened or agitated hearing about the seriousness of the virus.
- The stress you might be feeling is contagious and your relative may feel it too. Although she may not fully understand COVID-19, she may feel upset which can lead to a change in behavior such as agitation or sleeplessness.
- Take walks, keeping a safe distance. Being outside and getting some exercise can reduce stress for both of you.
- Share activities. Look at old photos together. Try a jigsaw puzzle. Involve your relative in a household activity such as dusting, vacuuming, etc. Try doing a favorite hobby together, or baking cookies, cleaning the toolbox, sorting clothes or coins.
- These are stressful times for all of us and it is important to take care of yourself. Yoga, meditation, a short walk, eating and sleeping well are very important right now. Reach out to a friend on the phone. Scheduling FaceTime sessions with friends and other family members can help with feelings of social isolation.
Caring for yourself
- Many Alzheimer’s Association chapters are offering virtual caregiver support groups. Visit Alz.org to see if the chapter near you is offering a group.
- Ask for help. Take help that is offered to you. Neighbors, friends, high school students, and Eagle Scouts are reaching out to do errands such as pick up groceries or medications, help with outdoor chores, or take a walk with your relative (If this is offered, ask the volunteer about any possible exposure to others within the past 30 days.)
- Some therapists are offering phone or video therapy sessions. There are also hotlines if you are feeling desperate, including the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 helpline, 800.272.3900.
We wish you all the best as our country goes through this difficult time. Hoping for all caregivers and their relatives to stay well.
Laurie White & Beth Spencer, Co-authors, Coping with Behavior Change in Dementia and Moving a Relative and Other Transitions in Dementia Care.