Caring for a Loved One with Dementia During COVID-19
Caring for a loved one with dementia is a significant role that requires empathy, attentiveness, and patience. And now, during the coronavirus pandemic, the care required often calls for extra gentleness.
In the US, there are at least 5 million people currently living with age-related dementias and memory disorders. Families and friends want to provide the best care throughout the challenges of dementia and the pandemic. As some conditions worsen, however, worry and stress can take their toll.
There is still much unknown about Alzheimer’s disease and unfortunately, still no cure. However, researchers in this industry have made significant progress in finding effective methods for caring for people with dementia that have a positive impact on both the dementia patient and the caregivers.
For example, Era Living Memory Care has adopted the Best Friends™ approach to dementia care. This approach is designed to help strengthen connections between dementia patients and caregivers, and it can also be useful for friends and family of people living with dementia—especially during this time.
Introducing the Best Friends approach
Developed by Virginia Bell and David Troxel during the 1990s, the Best Friends approach is based on the notion that what a person with dementia needs most of all is a “best friend”: one who empathizes, remains loving and positive, and promotes the perspective and dignity of a person with dementia.
How to be a “best friend”
The various stages of dementia can leave many of us feeling lost and not sure what to do. With the disruption of schedules and mandated quarantines, the pandemic has caused a loss of routine and community that may be difficult to understand, causing frustration and confusion.
With the Best Friends approach, you can always ask yourself, “What would a best friend do?” Best friends practice understanding and empathy to see each day through the eyes of dementia. They treat each other as equals. They know each other’s life story, and will remember happy days and events when positive memories are needed. Here’s what you can do to follow this approach when caring for a loved one with dementia.
Keep love one involved in decisions
Whenever possible, make sure your loved one still has a sense of agency and empowerment. Giving them choices, even if just between two options, is important in helping them feel that they can still make decisions.
Communicate simply—and limit COVID information
Dementia can make open-ended questions stressful. Questions requiring only yes or no answers, on the other hand, will help to keep communication more clear. For example, instead of asking what they’d like to eat you could give your loved one a dinner option like chicken or fish.
During the pandemic, it’s best to share the essential details and have a simple and ready explanation to avoid confusion and alarm. Your loved one may often ask why they’re not going out, why they can’t see friends and family, or why they have to wash their hands so many times. The UK chapter of the Alzheimer’s Society suggests using a phrase like “There’s a nasty bug going around, and everyone is staying home and taking extra care.”
Ask for their opinions
“I have an important online meeting at work this week, and I can’t decide what to wear. Which blouse do you like better on me?”
People with dementia want to feel valued. By asking for their preference on apparel or something similar, you are showing your loved one that you appreciate their opinion. Remember to keep the options simple, though. Rather than just asking “What should I wear?” hold up two or three options that they can choose from.
Recall information from their past
Whether you’re caring for a family member or friend with dementia, you have the advantage of knowing details of your loved one’s past. Where they went to school, what achievements they are proud of, big trips they went on — these are all great pieces of information to bring up in conversation. Details like these can brighten their day. And if there are days where your loved one doesn’t remember you, mentioning specific details from their life can help put them at ease and remind them they are in the care of people who know them well.
Help them stay connected
During the pandemic, many of us are emotionally struggling while unable to spend time with family and friends. When dementia can cause the details to be fuzzy, it can be much harder to understand and accept this situation. The isolation of quarantine can be a health risk, so it’s especially important that people with dementia feel connected to the people they love. If it’s something they need, you can help them with making regular phone and video calls, writing emails or letters, or making memory scrapbooks of group events.
Indoors or not, keeping the body active is still important. Regular exercise stimulates blood flow to the brain, which may help increase clarity and mental focus. If possible during the pandemic, joining your loved one in daily or frequent exercise can have positive effects on their mood—and possibly on their dementia symptoms. During quarantine, online classes like Tai Chi, yoga, or gentle Pilates are good options for exercising at home. If online classes are a complicated option, a caregiver might do at-home exercises with them to help them feel social and stick to good habits.
It’s also recommended to help them get fresh air. If they don’t have a porch or patio, keep windows open in good weather, and if needed, help them spend time in the rooms that get the most sunshine.
Laugh together and show affection
Laughter is always therapeutic. It relieves stress and helps strengthen connections. When caring for a loved one with dementia, tell some jokes or remember funny stories, whether over the phone or in person.
Adding affectionate touch, like hand squeezes and side hugs, can also help loved ones with dementia feel safe, connected, and less alone. Since close contact needs to be avoided with people outside of your household during the pandemic, it’s even more important to stay as connected as possible through phone or video calls. Checking in frequently like a best friend can help them feel less alone.
A new approach to care
Being a “best friend” to a friend or family member with dementia can help strengthen your connection and ease frustration. Try these strategies when interacting with your loved one and learn more about our new program, Era Living Memory Care today.
The Best FriendsTM is a trademark of Health Professions Press, Inc.