Dementia describes a group of cognitive and behavioral symptoms that develop as a result of a decline in brain function. Caring for someone with dementia can be challenging, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in older adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults also have an increased risk for severe complications from the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The CDC state that adults 65 years and older account for 80% of deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States.

In this article, we discuss how to care for someone with dementia during the COVID-19 pandemic.

a woman reading a newspaper with a senior woman and showing how to care for someone with dementiaShare on Pinterest
A caregiver can try establishing a daily routine for a person with dementia during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Current preventive measures against the novel coronavirus, such as physical distancing, may present significant challenges for people with dementia because they often rely on in-person health services and social support from family members and friends.

A person with dementia may not understand the COVID-19 pandemic or its implications.

Many caregivers, who typically rely on regular visits from family members and friends, may find themselves taking on more responsibilities without help or breaks.

As a result, people acting as the sole caregiver may experience emotional and physical fatigue.

The challenges that stem from dementia vary depending on the type and severity of a person’s condition.

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease affects regions of the brain that play a role in memory formation.

People living with Alzheimer’s disease may have difficulty remembering recent events or performing daily tasks, such as washing their hands.

Lewy body dementia

People who have Lewy body dementia or Parkinson’s disease may exhibit progressive memory loss, mood changes, and language impairment.

They may have difficulty communicating their needs or concerns to caregivers.

Frontotemporal dementia

Frontotemporal dementia, previously known as Pick’s disease, involves symptoms that relate either to changes in behavior or language difficulties.

People with frontotemporal dementia may exhibit impulsive or inappropriate social behavior. As a result, they may neglect physical distancing, hand hygiene, and other recommendations from their caregivers and local health authorities.

A caregiver can use the following tips to help care for someone with dementia.

Plan for gaps in care

Caregivers may need to take on more caregiving responsibilities if in-home health aids or other family members cannot come by as frequently.

They can prepare for unexpected gaps in care by first making a list of essential supplies, such as medication, personal hygiene products, and food.

It is a good idea to stock up on nonperishable, essential supplies.

Create a daily routine

It may be beneficial to establish a consistent daily routine that includes the following activities:

  • waking up and going to sleep at set times
  • bathing, getting dressed, and other personal care activities
  • cooking and eating meals
  • taking a break or nap
  • socializing with friends and family
  • engaging in gentle physical activity
  • doing relaxing or creative activities

Avoid stress

It is important to prioritize activities and tasks that do not agitate the person with dementia. For instance, if the person becomes withdrawn, frustrated, or confused when they are away from home, it is best to focus on activities that they can do at home.

Caregivers can create a calming environment by keeping the person’s immediate surroundings free of loud noises and harsh light.

They should also try to stay calm and positive, especially if the person with dementia becomes angry or aggressive. In these situations, it may help to ask them whether they want or need support.

If talking with the person does not help, caregivers can try redirecting the situation. For example, they can suggest a different activity or ask the person whether they want to move to another space in the home.

Use repetition and visual cues

People can help prevent the transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) — the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — by:

  • avoiding close contact with people who have contracted the virus
  • covering their mouth and nose when they cough or sneeze
  • avoiding touching their eyes, nose, and mouth
  • cleaning and disinfecting frequently used objects and surfaces
  • washing the hands regularly with soap and water
  • using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer

A person can learn how to practice proper hand washing here.

People with dementia may require additional support and visual cues to help them remember essential hygiene practices. Caregivers may wish to consider practicing thorough hand washing with the person.

They can also place a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer in an easily accessible place, such as an end table next to the person’s chair or on their nightstand.

Assess the person’s physical health

People living with dementia cannot always communicate their needs to others. As a result, caregivers should regularly evaluate the person’s physical health.

They should look for signs of injury, such as bruises, cuts on the skin, or pressure wounds.

Having dementia does not necessarily mean that a person will contract SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19. However, the cognitive symptoms associated with dementia can make it difficult to follow the safety advice from the government.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, new or worsening symptoms of dementia are usually the first sign that a person with dementia is experiencing an illness or infection. These symptoms can include increased confusion or loss of coordination.

During the pandemic, caregivers should also check for signs of COVID-19, such as fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Other symptoms may include:

  • muscle pain
  • new loss of smell or taste
  • sore throat

Less commonly, people may experience gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Communication is an essential element of caregiving. As the disease progresses, a person with dementia loses their ability to express themselves and understand others.

How to communicate

Caregivers, friends, and family members may find the guidance below helpful for communicating with someone with dementia:

  • maintain eye contact
  • use the person’s name
  • use the names of people and places
  • discuss one topic at a time
  • ask yes-or-no questions
  • use open and relaxed body language
  • express positivity and affection through facial expression and tone of voice
  • use straightforward, distinctive language
  • speak with a soft, calm voice

How not to communicate

It is best to avoid the following types of communication as much as possible when speaking with a person who has dementia.

  • speaking too quickly
  • speaking with a loud, angry tone
  • asking more than one question at a time
  • asking open ended questions
  • using vague or confusing language
  • using pronouns (he, she, they) in place of names
  • using abbreviations
  • being impatient and not waiting for the person to respond or answer a question on their own
  • using baby talk or overly simplistic explanations

Here is a list of activities that people with dementia can do at home:

  • light exercise, such as walking, tai chi, and dance
  • cooking or baking
  • listening to music
  • watching a movie or a television show
  • puzzles and crosswords
  • reading
  • gardening
  • playing a game

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, increased confusion is one of the first signs that someone with dementia may be ill.

Caregivers should contact a doctor if a person with dementia shows new or worsening symptoms.

They should seek immediate medical attention if the person has a high fever or difficulty breathing, or if they show other symptoms of COVID-19, such as:

  • new confusion
  • inability to stay awake or wake up
  • blue face or lips
  • pain or pressure in the chest

People caring for someone with dementia may wish to consider using the following services during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Caring for a person with dementia can be challenging, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Doing the following can help relieve stress while caring for a person with dementia:

  • eating a healthful diet
  • exercising regularly
  • socializing with friends and other family members while maintaining physical distancing
  • keeping legal, medical, and financial information up to date
  • making a list of emergency contacts in case of unexpected illness or disability
  • considering working with a mental health counselor or joining a support group

Along with practicing patience and self-care, it is important that caregivers remind themselves that a person with dementia does not choose to act out or say hurtful things.

Many caregivers face unprecedented challenges at this time. The following tips can help them continue providing for themselves and those with dementia in their care during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • stocking up on essential items, such as medication and household supplies
  • creating a daily routine for the person with dementia
  • regularly contacting a healthcare professional through phone calls or videoconferencing
  • maintaining a solid support system with online communities, friends, and family members
  • practicing patience and acceptance
  • asking for help if caregiving becomes too challenging

Caregivers should contact a doctor if a person with dementia shows new or worsening symptoms.

They should seek immediate medical attention if a person with dementia shows more severe symptoms, such as:

  • new confusion
  • difficulty breathing
  • high fever
  • persistent cough
  • inability to stay awake or wake up
  • blue face or lips
  • pain or pressure in the chest

It is also important for caregivers to practice self-care and look after their own physical and mental health and well-being.

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