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Alzheimer’s Care at Home May Mean Higher Risk During COVID-19 Pandemic

We don’t yet know whether Alzheimer’s disease in itself increases the danger of COVID-19. Some new studies suggest there might be a relationship between susceptibility to the virus and certain genes that are associated with Alzheimer’s.

But even without hard evidence for a link between Alzheimer’s and COVID, there are many less direct dangers that we know a great deal about. If you are caring for someone who is struggling with dementia at home—whether you live with them or not—it’s important to understand the complicated relationship between dementia and the coronavirus.

daughter caring for mother with mask on

 

So much of COVID-19 prevention has to do with small common sense measures in everyday life: we have to remember to wash our hands and wear our masks and remember not to touch our faces or stand too close to anybody when we go out. We can also lower our risk by careful planning in order to reduce the number of errands we must run. But remembering and planning are, of course, much harder for someone with dementia.

In this way, the pandemic adds a whole new layer of concern for anyone who helps take care of a person with dementia. A trip to the doctor, for example, now involves a whole new set of precautions and reminders as you navigate the new protocols. At the same time, we are all aware of how high the stakes are, since most Alzheimer’s patients are also in the higher-risk category that comes with age.

But with all these new protocols to follow and medical concerns to keep you on high alert, it might be tempting to forget the personal side of the effects of the pandemic on people with dementia. The emotional effects of the virus can be especially devastating for Alzheimer’s patients, and anyone involved in any way in their care should be aware of these effects and take special measures to offset them in any way possible.

There are no complete solutions here, so the goal is not to fix the problem but to improve life for those we love in whatever way we can. There are three main areas in which our loved ones with dementia especially need our understanding and attentiveness.

1. Anxiety. Anyone who is caring for a dementia patient at home knows that anxiety is a huge part of the disease. The causes for anxiety are not hard to understand: dementia weakens your ability to make sense of the world around you. When everything feels chaotic and you don’t know what to expect, anxiety is a natural consequence. Your loved one with Alzheimer’s will need you to understand their heightened anxiety and to be more attentive than ever to offering reassurances and explanations—small measures that require heroic amounts of patience.

 

It’s important to understand the complicated relationship between dementia and the coronavirus.

 

2. Isolation. Perhaps the cruelest aspect of Alzheimer’s is the way it disrupts human relationships. If you’re taking care of someone with dementia, you’ve been told how important it is to get them out into the community and arrange social activities for them. But now social distancing and deliberate isolation are the rules. You may not realize how important small social encounters have been to the person you’re helping to take care of. What is a routine or even a burdensome errand for you might feel more like an outing to them. Your loved one with Alzheimer’s will need you to understand the importance of human contact, no matter how superficial and brief, and to be attentive to making the most of every opportunity—even if it’s just phone calls.

3. Disrupted routines. People with dementia rely very heavily on routines and regularity to help fill in the gaps left by a weakened memory. Pandemic protocols are constantly changing, and as soon as a new routine is put in place, it seems to be replaced by new rules. Your loved one with Alzheimer’s needs you to understand why routines are so important to them, and to be attentive to finding ways to preserve whatever elements of the old routines, no matter how minor, you can. They also need your ingenuity in finding ways to make the new routines feel as normal as possible.

In many ways, this pandemic seems to target and magnify the burdens of dementia, for both those who suffer from it and those who help take care of them. But by the same token, our greatest assets in fighting the effects of dementia are the same: loving understanding and attentiveness in the small matters of everyday living. 

 

Written by, Terry Moore on Oct. 8, 2020
Terry Moore

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