Coronavirus care: supporting loved ones with dementia
1 June 2020
Supporting a family member through dementia is not easy, and the extra challenges introduced by the coronavirus lockdown can make matters even more challenging. Guest blogger Ruby Clarkson summarises the best advice and the help that's available.
(This blog post was published on 1 June 2020 and refers to coronavirus measures and restrictions in place in the UK at that time. For the latest information, visit gov.uk/coronavirus.)
Though helping elders who have had to isolate for weeks on end can understandably be demanding, there’s plenty of help available, and you don’t have to do it alone. Here are some things to keep in mind as you protect those you care about.
Stay at home as much as possible
Despite recent relaxation in the lockdown rules, the government is still urging caution for those over 70, as well as those with health conditions. There is plenty of governmental advice on exactly how to protect a vulnerable person, and what to do if they share a household with someone with covid-19 symptoms. If you’re caring for an elderly person with dementia, the most important thing is that they stay at home as much as possible and minimise contact with others outside their household. You can help by making sure that someone can deliver necessities, including household cleaning items like bleach, hand soap and disinfectant.
Wash your hands when visiting a vulnerable person and maintain a 2m distance as much as possible. If you can, make sure shared surfaces in bathrooms and kitchens are cleaned with a disinfectant to prevent the spread of the virus. You might need to hang up signs to remind your loved one to wash their hands, or be patient in explaining certain details to them again and again.
It’s OK to ask for help from neighbours. Local websites like Next Door and In Your Area can help you stay connected with your community and even seek occasional help from volunteers. Understandably, friends and family might not always be able to pitch in to help, but there are always options. According to care-at-home provider Helping Hands, 'there are times when we all need a little extra support. Whether it’s help with the household chores, personal care, medication or mobility, a dedicated carer or personal assistant can be there to provide peace of mind.' For your peace of mind, a personal carer can come as often as needed, to help those with dementia stay safe and happy during difficult times.
Help can take many forms
The elderly, especially those with medical or neurodegenerative diseases, have additional challenges to face under lockdown. Though there isn’t much any of us can do about the current restrictions, we can certainly get creative when it comes to finding ways to make our loved ones’ lives a little more comfortable. Think about sending them games, books, films, jigsaw puzzles or craft supplies to lift their spirits.
Offer to have them call you if they’re confused and need to understand the latest government news and advice – or just if they’re lonely and would like a chat. A daily routine can add structure to their days and give them something to look forward to. You could regularly post letters and include things of interest inside, like family updates, photographs, poems, postcards and drawings, or little gifts that might be appreciated.
With dementia, patience is key. Expect that you will need to explain things more than once, so stick to short, simple sentences like, 'there’s a dangerous virus going around. That’s why you need to stay inside. Wash your hands.'
Give yourself the support you need
Though many of us believe we could always do more, there is a real risk of burnout for carers of all kinds. If you’re caring for someone with dementia, it’s vital that you look after your own mental and physical wellbeing, too. Online and social media support groups can be a godsend to help manage stress and worry. Check in with local organisations for the advice and support they may offer carers.
In our concern for those more vulnerable than us, it can be easy to forget our own wellbeing, but it’s important now more than ever to keep physically active, practice stress management, and keep busy with hobbies and activities you enjoy. A little time spent outdoors or a phone call with a friend can do wonders. You may also find that your nerves are allayed by a regular schedule of contact with the person with dementia. Arrange a daily chat or make their day by delivering some flowers or chocolates – and get yourself a treat in the process!
Where to get help
Call the Dementia Helpline on 0800 888 6678 or visit their website to ask for advice or information.
Consult the NHS website for clear and accurate information about the virus.
Contact Age UK online or call 0800 678 1602 for support and advice for older people.
Get in touch with the Alzheimer’s Society for a database of resources in your area.