Everyone has felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in some way— and some have been affected more than others. Americans who are caring for their family members or who have dependents have been hit particularly hard as stay-at-home orders, joblessness and changes to everyday life impact how they care for themselves and their families.
This month, we celebrate those who are caring for loved ones suffering with Alzheimer’s and dementia. A recent survey found that 92% of Alzheimer’s caregivers say their stress is higher now due to the pandemic. The 24/7 care they provide has been complicated by the pandemic, and it’s more challenging than ever to care for their loved ones.
Luckily, dementia does not increase risk for COVID-19; however, dementia-related behaviors, increased age and common health conditions may increase risk.
For example, people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia may forget to wash their hands or take other recommended precautions to prevent illness. In addition, diseases like COVID-19 and the flu may worsen cognitive impairment due to dementia.
If you or a family member are caring for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, here are some tips to help you ease stress and care for your loved ones during the pandemic.
Follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. Ensure you follow handwashing guidelines, wear face coverings while in public and limit exposure to others through social distancing. Those suffering with dementia may need written reminders to practice good hygiene. Consider placing a sign above the sink to help remind them about proper handwashing.
Utilize telehealth services. Those suffering with dementia may experience increased confusion as a first symptom of illness, which is an indication that they should see a health care provider. Before taking them to the emergency room or a health care office, it’s important to call your health care provider, as they may be able to treat them via telehealth without having to go into the office.
Plan ahead. Make alternative plans for care in case the primary caregiver becomes sick or cannot care for the person suffering with dementia. Ask your pharmacy and health care provider for more refills on prescriptions to reduce the number of visits to the pharmacy. If the person is in adult day care, make a backup plan should care be cancelled due to COVID-19.
Check with facilities first. If your loved one is currently being cared for at a facility, it’s important to check with the facility before you visit to see if they still allow visitors. Many facilities are closed to visitors to ensure the health of their patients. If you cannot visit, ask the facility how you can contact your family member. Phone calls and video chats are a great way to check in with them from a distance. If you are concerned about a COVID-19 outbreak in the facility, keep in contact with staff and ask them about their quarantine procedures.
As always, if you have any additional questions or concerns about the health of your loved ones, check in with their primary care provider. While the battle against COVID-19 continues, taking the steps listed above can decrease stress for caregivers and help ensure the health of those suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.