The stress and difficulty of caring for a person with dementia can be heightened during periods of social isolation like the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Carmel Dyer, MD, a geriatrician with UT Physicians and executive vice-chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, shares some insights for caregivers.
“The emotional toll of caring for an individual with dementia can eventually lead to poor physical health, which is why caregivers should take extra precautions to remain physically and emotionally healthy,” said Dyer, executive director of the UTHealth Consortium on Aging. “There are several steps you can take as the caregiver that will help both you and the patient navigate these uncertain times.”
The importance of hand hygiene can’t be underscored enough. Caregivers should pay close attention to washing their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water frequently. If soap and water are not available, hand sanitizer is a viable alternative. It’s also a good idea to prompt the person with dementia to wash their hands as well.
Medications and groceries
Caregivers to those suffering from dementia may find it challenging to leave the home to fill prescriptions or purchase groceries and other needed supplies. If possible, arrange to have all prescriptions filled for at least three months and secure ample amounts of other supplies to last for an extended period of time. In areas where delivery of these items is available, caregivers should take advantage of and use those services.
It is important to develop a systematic routine when caring for a person with dementia that includes staying connected to family, friends, and loved ones. Phone calls and virtual visits are helpful and reassuring. This also includes establishing a regular routine to check in with physicians and other health professionals, specifically when there are concerns.
Have a backup
Every caregiver should make arrangements for alternative assistance from a qualified backup caregiver in case they become sick and unable to provide care. Having reliable backup assistance and knowing someone else is available can be a huge relief.
Take advantage of resources
There are multiple resources at your fingertips, including the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. There are multiple ways to connect with them:
- Call the helpline, which is available 24 hours a day/seven days a week: 1-800-272-3900.
- Access the chat feature on the website to connect with a member of the staff. Live chat is typically available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. CST, Monday through Friday.
- Go online and fill out this form to let them know how they can help. They will respond within 24 hours.
The association also has virtual and phone meetings to help address questions and concerns about dementia. There are also other resources, like a chapter Facebook page that provides the most current updates on support groups as well as access to their weekly calendar.