Being a dementia caregiver can be chaotic at the best of times. Add a worldwide pandemic to the mix, and it’s no wonder that many caregivers are feeling rather overwhelmed right now.
“First things first: having dementia does not necessarily increase your loved one’s risk for contracting COVID-19,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. “However, many individuals with dementia do have health issues, are of an advanced age and experience other behaviors that greatly increase their risk of developing the disease.”
As you may already be aware, seniors – specifically, those aged 65 or older – are the demographic most vulnerable to contracting coronavirus. Other factors that increase risk are living in a nursing home or facility, having diabetes, serious heart conditions or being immunocompromised. Chances are your loved one has at least two of those factors.
“Preventative measures against COVID-19 are our front line of defense right now, and unfortunately, people with dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease may not remember to or simply can’t take recommended precautions,” says Andrea. For example, they may forget to wash their hands, or refuse to wear masks or not practice social distancing.
If you’re a caregiver to someone with dementia, Andrea says, it’s important to know what challenges your loved one faces, and how you can help mitigate the danger to them and to yourself.
“Keeping you and your loved ones healthy and safe throughout this pandemic is of utmost importance,” Andrea says. “Second to that, but just as important, is ensuring that your loved one remains calm, confident and as secure as possible in order to avoid unwanted behaviors and to lessen the burden on yourself. Whatever you can do to make your job easier – while still maintaining healthy practices for you and your family – will serve you well at this time.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), increased confusion in an individual with dementia is often the first symptom of any illness. That holds true for COVID-19. If your loved one is experiencing rapidly increased confusion, contact their physician or health care provider for more information. Unless your loved one has a dangerously high fever or has difficulty breathing, do not go to the emergency room. Instead, make sure that your loved one is comfortable, hydrated and calm and contact a health care provider for advice.
If your loved one lives with you and you serve as primary caregiver, you may have a slightly easier time with ensuring a safe environment for the individual with dementia. By keeping your loved one isolated in your home – and being cautious about who comes in and out of your house – you can greatly reduce the risk of “contamination” by outside factors. Living at home means you can more easily remind your loved one to wash their hands, use hand sanitizer and refrain from touching their face. You can also be sure that he or she wears a mask when going outside or interacting with people.
One of the best things you can do as a caregiver is to make sure physical contact from the outside world is limited. You may wish to speak to your pharmacist or doctor about receiving 90-day refills on prescriptions instead of 30-day, for example, in order to reduce the number of trips you have to make. You may also want to look into services such as grocery delivery that will reduce your workload while allowing you to stay put.
If your loved one is receiving home-based care (whether living in their own home or in yours), making sure they’re safe can be slightly more difficult. Andrea suggests that you contact the home health provider and speak with them about how they’re shifting their protocols to reduce the spread of COVID-19. You may wish to institute your own precautions before the care provider enters the home, such as taking their temperature and having them wash their hands upon arrival.
Remember, even though you want your loved one to stay safe and secure, it’s also important for people with dementia to have regular social and mental stimulation. Fortunately, there are many technologies these days that can allow your loved one to interact with the world, stay engaged, use their skills and keep them entertained. Computer games and apps, favorite videos and even virtual assistants like Alexa can be a way for your loved one to engage and connect with others.
What if your loved one lives in a memory care community or is in long-term care? This can be difficult for family members and caregivers, because many of these settings have instituted a ban on nonessential visitors. While this helps reduce the risk to residents’ health and safety, it can also be frustrating for both family members and the individual with dementia – who may not understand what’s going on.
If your loved one is in a community, here are some things you can do to stay in touch while still social distancing:
- Speak to the memory care community to learn about their safety procedures and if/when they are allowing visitors.
- Look into alternate ways for connecting with your loved one: Zoom call, Skype, FaceTime or even a drive-by or driveway hangout.
- If you’re exhibiting any signs of illness – even non-COVID related illnesses – stay at home.
- Stay in touch with staff members to stay up-to-date on their ever-shifting policies.
Andrea reminds caregivers that, although this may be a scary time, your job as a caregiver is to make life as normal as possible for your loved one to ensure their quality of life. “Your loved one will look to you and pick up on your emotions, so the calmer you are and more normal you make the situation seem, the easier it will be for them to follow precautions,” she says. “There’s no one right way to do this – whatever works for you and your loved one is the best way to do it. As long as you stay vigilant and do your best to keep you and your loved one healthy, the easier it will be to weather this storm and emerge on the other side.”
For more information about caregiving for someone with dementia during this time of COVID-19, or to learn more about our community, mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.
Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care
The Reutlinger Community is affiliated with Eskaton Senior Living. Our mission is to provide high quality health care and social support services in a life-enhancing and stimulating environment with a commitment to Jewish values.
Offering Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live in a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s renovated 110,000-square-foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any senior’s needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.
Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.
At The Reutlinger, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.
For more information, contact us today.