By, Joan Wright, CDP, CADDCT
Dementia Care Specialty Program Director, Certified Dementia Practitioner, Certified Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Trainer
Needless to say, it’s a very stressful period of time right now. The air is energized by scary headlines and news bites and households trying to cope with isolation and social distancing practices. Now add in caring for a loved one with dementia and the complications multiply.
One of the best things we can do for loved ones with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia is to keep a sense of calm in their household. That can be a challenge in the best of times, but right now, it is increasingly harder to do. So what can we do to try to restore the calmest environment possible?
Tip 1: Recognize your own limitations. We are only human and times like these inject various levels of concern and fear into the best of us. As a result, we may not even realize what we are projecting to others – do we look worried? Is our body language tense? Are we a little more frantic in recommended practices such as washing hands and wiping down packages, countertops, doorknobs?
Even if we keep the news channels off (tip to come), how we are acting feeds our loved ones’ reality. They may not hear a single soundbite but if they see us acting worried or anxious, they will respond in mirror fashion. So, as best as we can, we have to develop a sense of calm when around our loved ones with dementia. And again, because we are human, don’t expect to be able to do this all the time! Just be conscious of how you are presenting and how your loved one may read/respond to it. E.G. The wiping down packages and counters, etc should be done out of eye shot of our loved ones when possible so they are not wondering why we are doing it so much.-19
Tip 2: Keep our loved ones’ environments COVID-19 news free. Don’t have the news channels or broadcasts on television or radio. This may be challenging for a loved one who counts on watching the news. But try as best you can to divert attention away from the news and instead on happier, funny shows or musical broadcasts. It may be impossible to do for some, so consider limiting the amount of time they watch the news. Perhaps tune into the news later in the broadcast to avoid ‘breaking news” or lead stories that will surely be about the COVID-19 virus.
Tip 3: Choose positive, light entertainment. We always caution about the influence television shows have on the reality of our loved ones with dementia. Sometimes, they believe a show they are watching is actually happening to them and they are a part of it. Others may take aspects of a program, intermingle it with an old memory and it suddenly becomes the present reality. So, it’s best to tune into uncomplicated comedies, feel good dramas (not crime or medical), or some old standards that channels such as ME-TV or Cozi-TV broadcast. The HGTV network also provides light entertainment as does Discovery and the Golf Channel, which offers soothing vistas and soft-spoken narratives. Cable channels are better because news bulletins can’t break in interrupting programming like with network channels.
Music too is a wonderful gift any time but particularly during moments like this. It provides all sorts of variations of soothing sounds, fun dance tunes, or slow dancing opportunities. Cable television offers a host of music channels but perhaps it’s time to turn the tv off and get back to your stereo system, IPod, or playlists you can create together on computer.
Tip 4: Be aware of conversations and discussions about the current situation within ear shot of your loved one with dementia. While some may muse it’s “selective hearing”, it’s incredible how much our loved ones can pick up from overhearing conversations. Like the delivery of a newscast, the mere tone of our conversations can initiate sparks of concern and anxiety for them. If healthcare providers or personal companions are coming into your home, encourage their conversations with your loved one with dementia avoid any COVID-19 discussion. Such discussion should be done with you the caregiver away from your loved one. Now, this may be a challenge if the caregivers are wearing masks and gloves in precautionary measure. But try to explain why as simply and vaguely as possible so as to not raise any alarms. Saying, “oh this is just for now to make sure no one gets sick”, is a simple explanation without going into any detail about COVID-19 concerns, etc.
Tip 5: Social distancing can be difficult but is important. Your loved one with dementia may count on seeing grandchildren, adult children, close friends on a regular basis. But as we all know, social distancing among people who don’t live with us daily, is key to minimizing COVID-19’s spread. So try to utilize modern technology via FaceTime or Zoom visits or any of the many other telecommunication modes available now. Weather permitting, grandchildren can visit outdoors and wave through windows. Maybe they can even put on a performance in the backyard that your loved one can watch! Again, explain the distance simply and without a lot of details. “We’re doing this just for now so we all stay healthy.” Or, “the kids have colds and don’t want to give them to you.” Stretching the truth is perfectly acceptable when trying to keep your loved ones calm and safe and dignity intact.
As Maya Angelou said, “Do your best until you know better. And then, do better.” This is all new territory for everyone. We can only do the best we can do. Take deep breaths before interacting with your loved one if you feel tense. Develop a mantra or code word or visual that helps settle you. Most importantly, give yourself a break. . . and stay well.
For questions or to learn more about dementia care support, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org