Stability needed for struggling seniors
Officials offer tips for caregivers of those with dementia, Alzheimer’s
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.
A pedestrian walks by a medical tent across from the entrance to AdventHealth Orlando March 18.