Caregivers of dementia patients have a unique challenge and a heavy responsibility during the COVID-19 pandemic. People with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia may be at a higher risk for coronavirus, not because of their illness, but because of the behaviors and health conditions accompanying dementia. To help caregivers of loved ones with dementia continue to meet this unprecedented challenge, let’s examine some of the most helpful tips for caregivers of dementia patients.
It Starts with a Plan
This time will bring about unexpected challenges for many caregivers of dementia patients, so having a solid plan in place for abrupt changes is among the best ways caregivers can protect their patients and themselves. Consider these dementia caregiver tips for planning:
– Continuing a daily routine as you normally would is ideal, but preparing for how to change that routine to include new safety measures now will help make transitions easier in the future.
– Overcommunication is meant for a time like this. Consistent communication with family, physicians and, if applicable, community staff is important for your loved one with dementia and yourself during this time.
– Dementia health services like adult day care programs may be less available during this time, and it’s entirely possible the primary caregiver or their loved ones may contract the coronavirus. Gaps in care can be extremely difficult to overcome in the middle of a crisis. It’s best to have a plan for how to fill unexpected gaps in caregiver availability before those gaps occur.
– To avoid exposure in a pharmacy setting as much as possible, ask your loved one’s primary physician about filling prescriptions in advance.
– Be aware of the symptoms of COVID-19 for those with dementia, which can include increased agitation, confusion, and sudden sadness in addition to physical symptoms.
– Know when to seek medical attention. Look out for emergency warning signs such as trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, and bluish lips or face.
– Stay informed. New information about this virus is constantly coming out. Stay up to date on guidelines and resources for caregivers of dementia through the CDC.
Hyperfocus on Hygiene
Those living with forms of dementia may forget to arduously wash their hands or find it difficult to adopt new hygiene safety precautions in their activities of daily living. Caregivers need to be extra vigilant in helping their loved one with dementia follow through with these safety precautions — and consistently practice these precautions themselves:
– Repeatedly demonstrate proper thorough hand washing, and consider working a demonstration into the daily routine of the person with dementia.
– Avoid sharing personal items as much as possible.
– Leave clearly written notes reminding your loved one with dementia to wash their hands and practice safe hygiene.
– Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue.
– Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
– Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
– Be prepared with the essential protective equipment per the CDC guidelines, including:
o Face masks or cloth coverings
o Hand sanitizer
o Sanitizing household cleaners
Address the Pandemic
The societal changes resulting from COVID-19 can cause intensified confusion for people with dementia. It’s important to talk through what’s happening in a relatable, calming manner. The goal, as always, should be to maintain optimal quality of life for the person living with dementia while making them feel as safe as possible. Here are some helpful communication tips for caregivers of dementia patients:
– Frame the pandemic in a context your loved one with dementia will understand and avoid over-explaining if they are not able to grasp it.
– Try explaining the situation in terms of “this is what is safest for us right now” when explaining why they must stay at home.
– Reassure your loved one that you or their caregiver will be with them throughout all of it.
– Pay extra attention to the triggers that normally set your loved one off and if additional triggers enter their behavior.
– Try to keep the person living with dementia engaged and stimulated as much as possible.
Care for Yourself
Throughout all this, caregivers must give themselves grace. This crisis is sure to bring additional challenges to an already complex job. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed, which is why it’s vitally important for caregivers to also care for themselves. After all, caregivers are the first line of defense to those living with dementia. Do your best to avoid caregiver burnout with these self-care dementia caregiver tips:
– Maintain your own healthy habits. Eat a healthy diet, avoid using drugs and alcohol, and get plenty of sleep and regular exercise to help reduce stress and anxiety.
– Keep up with your own routine, including eating meals at regular times and maintaining a sleep schedule. Also try to work in an activity you enjoy each day or week, just for you.
– Take breaks from media coverage and social media to avoid becoming overstimulated and anxious. However, it’s important to stay up to date on the pandemic.
– Don’t forget to reach out to your family and friends throughout this time — your support system is more valuable than ever.
– Attending local support groups can provide a safe place in which to talk through your fears with caregivers.
– Establish a solid plan for the long term, and have a backup caregiver at the ready to avoid gaps in care if you get sick or need a break. Also remember that taking breaks to focus on caring for yourself is perfectly acceptable and necessary.
If you’re a caregiver of a loved one with dementia, Edgemere wants you to know we’re here to help in any way we can. If you’re a caregiver searching for help or additional resources, please do not hesitate to contact us. Our memory care services are some of the best Dallas has to offer. Reach out to us anytime through our website or call us at 214.265.9100.