The COVID-19 pandemic threatens the health of millions in this country and around the world, but the novel coronavirus presents unique challenges for more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and more than 16 million family members and friends serving as their caregivers. Most notably, public health strategies aimed at limiting contact with others is nearly impossible for people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, who rely on family caregivers and others to live their daily lives. The Alzheimer’s Association is here to help families take the necessary measures to prepare for and cope with such extraordinary circumstances.
Tips for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregivers
Foster safe hygiene habits. People living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias may forget to wash their hands or follow other precautions to ensure safe hygiene. Caregivers are encouraged to be extra vigilant in helping individuals practice safe hygiene.
Monitor sudden or sustained behavior changes. People living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias may not be able to communicate if they are feeling bad or showing early symptoms of illness. Caregivers should monitor family members closely and respond quickly to any signs of distress, discomfort or increased confusion. These signs do not necessarily indicate a serious condition like COVID-19, but it’s important to determine the underlying cause.
Prepare for potential changes in care and support. As public health containment strategies for COVID-19 continue, families need to anticipate that less help may be available. It’s important for families to anticipate these changes and make plans for filling gaps in caregiving.
Be calm and create a nurturing environment. The current COVID-19 pandemic is creating added anxiety for everyone. Do your best to remain calm, particularly in your interactions with family members living with dementia. These individuals often take their cues from the people around them. Creating a calm environment will help them feel safe and protected.
Play gatekeeper with outside caregivers and guests. Carefully monitor who is coming into the home to ensure all who enter are healthy. Be proactive in asking outside caregivers and guests about their current health status and make sure they are not experiencing any early or recent symptoms of illness.
Ask residential care facilities about communication policies. To protect the health of residents, many facilities are restricting access to outside visitors. Ask the facility about alternative communication methods during the crisis, including phone calls, video chats or emails. If your family member is unable to engage in calls or video chats, ask the facility how you can connect with staff to get health updates.
Tips for Engaging People with Alzheimer’s/Dementia during Quarantine
Tips to help caregivers identify activities
It is important to help the person living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia remain engaged. Having an open discussion around any concerns and making slight adjustments to activities can make a difference. Consider the following tips:
Start by asking yourself these questions. What do they like to do? What are they able to do? And, what are they in the mood for today? Spending time with a loved one with Alzheimer’s and other dementia can remain meaningful and fun — especially if you take your cue from the person.
Be prepared to adjust and modify activities. Activities may need to be adjusted or modified to adhere to stay-at-home orders. Play a game — checkers, cards or board games. Work on a jigsaw puzzle. Look at photo albums.
Encourage involvement in daily life activities. Activities that help the individual feel like a valued part of the household — like setting the table — can provide a sense of success and accomplishment.
Focus on individual enjoyment. A former office worker might enjoy activities that involve organizing, like putting coins in a holder, helping to assemble a mailing or making a to-do list. A former farmer or gardener may take pleasure in working in the yard.
Ask for help. Ask family members and friends for help with some non-contact chores, like putting the trash out, getting the mail or mowing the lawn. Consider meal and grocery delivery services.
Tips to help caregivers modify or adjust activities
If you notice a person’s attention span waning or frustration level increasing, it’s likely time to end or modify the activity.
Help get the activity started. Most people with dementia still have the energy and desire to do things but may lack the ability to organize, plan, initiate and successfully complete the task. You may need to show the person how to perform the activity and provide simple, easy-to-follow steps.
Concentrate on the process, not the result. Does it matter if the towels are folded properly? Not really. What matters is that you were able to spend time together, and that the person feels as if he or she has done something useful.
Be flexible. When the person insists that he or she doesn’t want to do something, it may be because he or she can’t do it or fears doing it. If the person insists on doing it a different way, let it happen, and change it later if necessary.
Assist with difficult parts of the task. If you’re cooking, and the person can’t measure the ingredients, finish the measuring and say, “Would you please stir this for me?”
Encourage self-expression. Include activities that allow the person a chance for expression. These types of activities could include painting, drawing, music or conversation.
Try again later. If something is not working, it may just be the wrong time of day or the activity may be too complicated. Try again later, or adapt the activity.
Tips for Supporting Alzheimer’s/Dementia Caregivers
Providing help and support to caregivers can be easier than most people think. Even little acts can make a big difference. The Alzheimer’s Association offers these suggestions:
Learn. Educate yourself about Alzheimer’s disease – its symptoms, its progression and the common challenges facing caregivers. The more you know, the easier it will be to find ways to help.
Build a Team. Organize family and friends who want to help with caregiving. The Alzheimer’s Association offers links to several free, online care calendar resources that families can use to build their care team, share takes and coordinate helpers.
Give Caregivers a Break. Make a standing appointment to give the caregiver a break. Spend time with the person with dementia and allow the caregiver a chance to run errands, go to their own doctor’s appointment, participate in a support group or engage in an activity that helps them recharge. Even one hour could make a big difference in providing the caregiver some relief.
Check In. Many Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers report feeling isolated or alone. So start the conversation – a phone call to check in, sending a note, or stopping by for a visit can make a big difference in a caregiver’s day and help them feel supported.
Tackle the To-Do List. Ask for a list of errands that need to be run – such as picking up groceries or prescriptions. Offer to do yard work or other household chores. It can be hard for a caregiver to find time to complete these simple tasks that we often take for granted.
Be Specific and Be Flexible. Open-ended offers of support (“call me if you need anything” or “let me know if I can help”) may be well-intended, but are often dismissed. Be specific in your offer (“I’m going to the store, what do you need?”). Continue to let the caregiver know that you are there and ready to help.
Help for the Holidays. Holiday celebrations are often joyous occasions, but they can be challenging and stressful for families living with Alzheimer’s. Help caregivers around the holidays by offering to help with cooking, cleaning or gift shopping. If a caregiver has traditionally hosted family celebrations, offer your home instead.
Join the Fight. Honor a person living with the disease and their caregiver by joining the fight against Alzheimer’s. You can volunteer at your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter, participate in fundraising events such as the Walk to End Alzheimer’s and The Longest Day, advocate for more research funding, or sign up to participate in a clinical study through the Alzheimer’s Association’s Trial Match.
For more information, visit alz.org/help-support/caregiving/daily-care/activities. Also visit alz.org or call its 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.