Sta­bil­ity needed for strug­gling se­niors

Of­fi­cials of­fer tips for care­givers of those with de­men­tia, Alzheimer’s

Orlando Sentinel - - Front Page - BY BETH KASSAB

Dr. Rose­mary Laird, who spe­cial­izes in cases of Alzheimer’s and de­men­tia, is an­swer­ing more and more of these types of phone calls. The adult child or spouse of a pa­tient is strug­gling to cope with the new re­al­i­ties of car­ing for a loved one alone with­out the help of shut­tered day pro­grams or their usual vis­i­tors.

In the worst cases, the pa­tient re­cently ar­rived at a new nurs­ing or re­hab fa­cil­ity, and fam­ily and friends aren’t al­lowed in.

“The per­son is cry­ing and scared and now they are alone and don’t have any­one fa­mil­iar to be with them,” said Laird, a board­cer­ti­fied geri­a­tri­cian for Ad­ven­tHealth Or­lando. “Those are re­ally dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions. The fa­cil­i­ties are do­ing all they can to re­lieve some of that stress. But it’s go­ing to be an ex­tra­or­di­nary chal­lenge for them to do that.”

With schools out at least un­til

April 15, there have been plenty of re­sources on so­cial me­dia and of­fered by the school dis­tricts to help par­ents keep kids oc­cu­pied and their minds ac­tive.

“Now we’re try­ing to do that to help peo­ple who have loved ones who have de­men­tia,” said Laird, who also serves on the lo­cal board for the Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion, which is of­fer­ing tips for care­givers.

Rou­tine is im­por­tant for peo­ple suf­fer­ing from mem­ory loss, Laird said. Be­cause the brain can’t process in­for­ma­tion and make mem­o­ries the way it’s sup­posed to, a reg­u­lar sched­ule of­ten pro­vides needed sta­bil­ity to pa­tients.

Many se­niors are ac­cus­tomed to go­ing to a day pro­gram, eat­ing meals in groups or hav­ing a reg­u­lar sched­ule of vis­i­tors in the home. Now, with CDC guide­lines to avoid crowds and stay at home, those rou­tines are se­verely dis­rupted.

As hard as they may be to fol­low, Laird said, so­cial dis­tanc­ing prac­tices are par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant for mem­ory loss pa­tients, who are of­ten el­derly and can be frail be­cause of other health con­di­tions. That could make them more sus­cep­ti­ble to the novel coro­n­avirus.

And care­givers shouldn’t be ig­nored, ei­ther. They can also have de­pleted im­mune sys­tems be­cause of the chronic stress that of­ten comes with tak­ing care of a loved one, Laird said.

So what are the best ways to cope?

For now Laird is only see­ing pa­tients by phone or, in some cases, video apps. A lot of times, she said, care­givers have blood-pres­sure cuffs at home as well as a bath­room scale. They can pro­vide vi­tals such as weight and blood pres­sure to nurses and doc­tors who meet with pa­tients vir­tu­ally. Med­i­caid has re­laxed some rules dur­ing the pan­demic to al­low for vir­tual visits through FaceTime and Skype.

There are vir­tual sup­port groups for care­givers, too, through the Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion and other groups,

Laird said it’s help­ful to keep reg­u­lar meal times and time to ex­er­cise. If you have a white­board, write down the rou­tine so ev­ery­one in the house­hold can see it. Writ­ing it in a note­book left on the kitchen ta­ble where ev­ery­one can read it will do just fine, too.

The Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion is rec­om­mend­ing care­givers demon­strate how to prop­erly wash hands and even post a note in the bath­room or kitchen to re­mind loved ones who strug­gle with mem­ory to wash their hands with soap for 20 sec­onds. Alcoholbas­ed hand san­i­tizer is a quick al­ter­na­tive if the per­son with de­men­tia can not eas­ily get to a sink.

Fi­nally, don’t fo­cus on try­ing to fig­ure out when the so­cial re­stric­tions will end or when restau­rant din­ing rooms will open again, Laird said. Try, though dif­fi­cult, not to dwell on the weeks or even months of un­cer­tainty ahead. “I’m try­ing to tell peo­ple to take things a week at a time,” she said. And if that doesn’t work, take one day at a time.

“Ask your­self, ‘Can I make to­day good?’” she ad­vised. “Then wake up to­mor­row and take on to­mor­row. I’m do­ing that even with my team at work.”

The Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion of­fers a free 24⁄7 helpline at 1-800-272-3900.

JOE BUR­BANK/OR­LANDO SENTINEL

A pedes­trian walks by a med­i­cal tent across from the en­trance to Ad­ven­tHealth Or­lando March 18.

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