Dementia care during COVID-19: tips for carers
COVID-19 has brought plenty of uncertainty and unexpected disruption to our daily lives. This is hard for everyone, but it can be especially challenging for people who are living with dementia.
According to Alzheimer Europe, some of the issues people with dementia may struggle with during the pandemic include:
- confusion and agitation from the change in normal routines
- a lack of cognitive stimulation when activities are cancelled
- feelings of anxiety, especially as they sense the stress of those around them
- difficulty understanding social distancing recommendations
- loneliness due to lack of social interaction
- loss of support, which may exacerbate symptoms
With everything going on, now is an important time to check in on each other and take steps to boost our wellbeing. Here are five tips on how to provide dementia self care during the corona virus pandemic:
1. Stay calm yet informed
Regular routines give us structure, safety and security, which is why disruptions can be difficult to cope with.
As much as possible, stick to a regular schedule for meals, sleep and other activities. If you are helping someone living with dementia to adopt a new routine, be consistent yet patient. Use a calm tone of voice and offer plenty of reassurance. For those with more advanced dementia, it may not be beneficial to explain everything that is going on, so consider what the person can understand and how the information will impact them (e.g. will it cause distress or reassurance?).
You may also want to limit the amount of news stories in their home, and talk about things other than the pandemic. Relaxing activities can help soothe anxious minds, so keep a few up your sleeve for when things get overwhelming.
2. Stay safe
If your loved one is over 65 or has a chronic illness, try to limit going out in public during this time. This may mean helping them organise home delivery for shopping, or filling prescriptions early to reduce trips to the pharmacy. Chat to your case manager or support worker about how they can support you or your loved one. At DementiaCaring, we’re more than happy to share the load.
Some people with dementia may find following instructions about personal care difficult. You can find easy-to-read tips here on the Dementia Australia website. Gentle prompting or visual pictures (e.g. signs in the bathroom about washing hands) can also be helpful. You may also need to be vigilant in recognising COVID-19 symptoms, as your loved one may not be able to communicate that they are feeling unwell.
3. Stay connected
Even though many of us are physically distancing during the pandemic, try to find ways to keep in touch. Technology can be helpful: encourage your loved one to make video calls on your phone, or use programs like Zoom or Skype to regularly talk to people (e.g. story time with your grandchildren, or calling a friend one afternoon a week for a virtual coffee together). If they need help using new technology, see if someone can provide guidance, such as their support worker.
For those providing dementia care during COVID-19, doing simple things together can build a connection, such as looking through photos, listening to music, watching a favourite show or folding the laundry. Although having a conversation may be difficult, simply being together and doing something with your senses can be rewarding.
4. Stay active in your mind and body
Regular outings may be cancelled, so think creatively about other things you can do, such as going for walks around the neighbourhood, gardening and spending time outdoors, keeping your mind active with puzzles, or trying a new hobby. Plenty of museums and zoos allow you to ‘visit’ without leaving your house! Try Taronga Zoo’s livestream, virtualtours through the National Gallery of Victoria or watchingpenguins at the Sea life Aquarium.
To stop life from becoming too monotonous, try breaking up the day into one or two-hour sessions and changing activities regularly. If your loved one receives home care services, write out their favourite activities and share the list with their support workers so everyone is on the same page.
5. Stay supported
Providing dementia care for someone is challenging when things are ‘normal’, let alone when there is a health pandemic. Reach out and get help when you need it, whether that’s an extra pair of hands to help with practical tasks, respite so you can have a break, or someone to talk to when things are tough. Chat to your loved one’s case manager for strategies, as they may have some helpful tips you haven’t thought of.
Together, we can support each other through this challenging time.