Dementia is among the most challenging symptoms for loved ones to live with while caring for older adults. Managing a loved one or client with dementia complicated by the global pandemic makes it all the more difficult. While an older adult with memory loss is not more likely to contract COVID-19, memory loss can lead to behaviors that can, such as forgetting to wash hands, wear a mask, or correctly social distance. These behaviors can make older adults with dementia a danger to themselves and others during a pandemic.
Fortunately, the CDC and others have offered guidance as to how in-home caregivers can help stop the spread. Caregivers may consider the following while working with a senior who is living with dementia:
- Watch for signs of COVID. Older adults with dementia who contract COVID often first show sharply increased confusion. Disorientation can be challenging to spot since confusion is the hallmark symptom of dementia itself. However, if you think you see it in the senior you are caring for, contact a health care provider. If your loved one is also showing more severe signs of COVID, such as a fever or trouble breathing, go to the ER.
- Reinforce good hygiene. Older adults with dementia will likely have difficulty remembering the COVID-safety basics depending on the severity of their memory loss.
- You should consider simple actions such as adding signs in the bathroom, reminding your loved one or patient to wash up, and giving regular verbal reminders. Demonstrate proper handwashing. Be sure there are plenty of supplies available such as soap, water, and hand sanitizer. Likewise, be sure to remind them of the importance of wearing masks and distancing.
- Stock up on meds. Talk to their pharmacist about getting a larger-than-normal supply of any medications your loved one is taking—this will help reduce trips to the pharmacy. Consider enrolling in a prescription delivery service. Many pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens provide this service for free or for a small fee.
- Be sure home health care providers are making safe choices. If you have a visiting nurse, talk with them about basic safety protocols. Be sure they are washing their hands upon arriving at your loved-ones home and multiple points during the day, as well as wearing a mask.
Having a loved one in a care or rehab facility has its own set of challenges. Access may be restricted or limited, and this is an extra hardship, both for you and your loved one. Here are a few things to consider if you find yourself in this situation.
- Be in touch. Every care facility has a COVID-19 protocol and policy right now. Ensure that you understand what is allowed at the facility and what is not. Reach out to your loved one regularly if you can. Visits may be limited to phone calls or video chats, but anything that can reinforce your presence in their lives will help.
- Stay away if you have symptoms. Many dementia patients have other, age-related health issues, which means extra caution with COVID exposure is essential. If you experience any symptoms yourself or are exposed to anyone who does, reconsider visiting your loved one for at least two weeks.
- Be ready if they have a COVID case. The CDC has issued clear guidelines for hospitals and other care facilities to deal with a case of the virus. Ask yourself what level of confidence you have that the facility is taking preventative measures, and more importantly if you feel sure they will follow the proper guidelines in the event of a case on site. Do they have the right protective equipment? Do they have a plan that feels comprehensive and well-thought-out? Ask many questions. If the answers leave you feeling less than sure, consider moving your loved one to another facility, or even home, if you can.
Having a loved one with dementia did not need any extra challenges—but here we are. Which brings us to our last piece of advice, and it applies to anyone caring for a patient with dementia: take care of yourself. You can not provide care for someone if you are not first looking after yourself. Ample sleep, regular meals, and relaxing downtime are essential to managing stress and worry. Providing these things to yourself is not a neglect of your responsibilities to your loved one—it is the first step in caring for them.