As September marks the sixth month of social distancing measures nationwide, the strain placed on the aging population continues to grow – leaving older adults with dementia more agitated and restless, and family caregivers at a loss for how to keep their loved ones safe and healthy.
While caring for an individual with memory loss requires a great deal of time and patience year-round, the coronavirus has placed a unique set of emotional and physical demands on Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers, with percent reporting higher stress due to COVID-19 in a recent study by UsAgainstAlzheimer’s A-LIST.
The pandemic has upended normal ways of life. For those supporting a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it’s no surprise that stress is at an all-time high. However, no one should feel the need to travel this journey alone. There are many online communities and resources available to guide them.
September is World Alzheimer’s Month, a good reminder for family caregivers to refresh care approaches and evaluate areas where assistance may be needed. Incorporating the following tips into daily care routine can empower individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and establish a positive environment.
Tips to establish a positive caregiving environment
1. Encourage healthy habits. Many people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias have pre-existing medical conditions that put them at a higher risk for COVID-19. Remind them to stay healthy with the help of visual cues like regular handwashing or covering your mouth while coughing. For another nudge, hang signs near kitchen and bathroom sinks with simple instructions, such as “wash your hands.”
2. Build structure into the day. A routine not only benefits the individual, it can also improve the productivity and emotional well-being of their caregiver. Basic patterns subconsciously guide our bodies through the day. Explore new activities that engage the senior’s mind and body – host an afternoon tea, organize items in your closet or take part in a daily exercise class via YouTube or other online channels. If you are social distancing from one another, set a regular time each day to connect through phone or video chat.
3. Create a safe space. Those receiving care are often very in tune with their caregiver’s emotions. If you are anxious or upset, your family member will likely feel it, too. Keep your stress levels in check by taking the Caregiver StressMeter assessment. You can find this online at www.caregiverstress.com If you’re someone who likes to keep the television on throughout the day, make time for positive programming (such as documentaries and musicals) instead of daily news shows. Evaluate the best level of information to share about topics such as COVID-19 and consider creating a script that other members of the family can use when answering difficult questions.
4. Brainstorm a backup plan. A recent study found that 73 percent of people caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s disease at home are unsure what would happen to their loved one if they as the caregiver contracted COVID-19. By creating a short- and long-term plan, you can help ensure the proper plan is in place and reduce the stress of decision-making under pressure. Assemble important documents and keep a record of key information, should you need to enlist an alternate care provider. Since we are in fire season here in Sonoma County, develop your evacuation plan. Pack a GO-Bag and make a destination plan if you are evacuated.
5. Seek out support. Supporting an individual with Alzheimer’s disease can evoke a variety of emotions and take a heavy toll on even the most resilient caregivers. Using resources or respite services doesn’t mean you have failed. In fact, asking for help can often be a gift to both yourself and your family member. You will be a better caregiver when you take moments to rest, eat healthy meals and lean on a support system. Dementia is not a journey you can take alone.
Above all, remember you know your family member best. Release any pressure you’re placing on yourself to memorize an exact list of tips in order to be a good caregiver – use what you know and admire about your loved one to guide your care and connect with them in meaningful ways. Take each day as it comes, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help if stress starts to wear down your physical or mental health.
With the right resources and support, you can set yourself up for success and provide the right level of care. To learn more, visit www.helpforalzheimersfamilies.com.
Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.