Brain COVID-19 (coronavirus) Featured

COVID-19: Tips for supporting people with dementia

Two people using a laptop computer for a video call
Written by Jennifer Palisoc

For people living with dementia, their thinking, learning, and memory are affected, which impacts everyday living. This can be difficult in the best of times, but it can be especially challenging as we navigate life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Among the most vulnerable to COVID-19 are people living with dementia, stroke or other neurodegenerative diseases,” says Dr. Rick Swartz, neurologist. “With these conditions, changes in the brain leads to memory loss, difficulty with thinking, problem-solving, and/or movement. This could mean a person may not remember to do things like wash their hands, or they may not have the mobility they used to and require the help of a caregiver.”

» Learn more about caring for those living with dementia, stroke and neurodegenerative diseases during the COVID-19 pandemic by the Ontario Neurodegenerative Disease Research Initiative

» Find out about self-management and self-care during COVID-19 for people with stroke, heart conditions and vascular cognitive impairment from this Heart & Stroke webinar featuring Dr. Rick Swartz, Sunnybrook neurologist

Tips for hand hygiene help for a person with dementia

In a time when handwashing and taking precautions is paramount, it’s important to help those who are more vulnerable to illness during the COVID-19 pandemic, including those living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. If you notice a person living with dementia is showing increased confusion, contact your health care team, as this may be a symptom of any illness.

  • Explain: Give a simple description of how to wash hands to stay healthy.
  • Show: Demonstrate proper hand-washing techniques, suggest humming part of a favourite tune so the individual with dementia washes their hands for an appropriate amount of time.
  • Signs: Consider putting up signs near sinks as a visual reminder to wash hands. Using pictures and large font may be helpful to use in signage.
  • Hand-sanitizer: If the person with dementia is not able to wash their hands easily, alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60 per cent alcohol can be used as an alternative.

Plan ahead

From groceries to medication to alternate care, making plans in advance can help both the caregiver and the person with dementia.

  • Virtual care: Talk to health care teams about the possibility of virtual care and having appointments done online or over the phone.
  • Alternate care: Determine who can help provide care to the individual with dementia, if the primary caregiver becomes ill or is no longer able to assist.
  • Limit trips to the pharmacy: Consider using a delivery service to fill prescriptions for medication.
  • Grocery shopping options: Shopping for groceries and physical distancing is easier as many stores offer online shopping, pick-up and delivery options. Friends and family can also lend a hand by picking up groceries while at the store and dropping them off directly.
  • Find resources: Learn more about resources that are available on a local, provincial and national level. Many credible organizations offer support and information online. For example, a service called 211 Ontario can help people in that province find programs and services in their community by dialing 2-1-1. There are also 211 Services outside of Ontario in some provinces and territories.

» Find more tips for caregivers from the Memory Doctor

Ways to stay connected

Health experts say while physical distancing is important to maintain during this pandemic, it’s also very important to make sure people with dementia aren’t isolated and that friends and loved ones keep in touch in a variety of ways.

  • Routine calls: Schedule some time each day to contact friends and family. Go beyond just texting. In a time of physical distancing, maintain human interaction by speaking with a person on the phone or seeing them in a video chat.
  • Telephone: Picking up the phone is one of the easiest ways to connect with loved ones. More people can join in if you have a conference call feature.
  • Smartphones: Contact friends and family with a call, by text or by using social media app. Sharing photos and videos can help everyone feel a little closer in these times.
  • Video-calling: Technology can bring friends and family altogether in groups. Not only can you speak to one another, you can see how everyone’s doing and stay connected.

Planning ahead and getting creative with communication are just some of the things that can be helpful for people living with dementia and other neurodegenerative conditions. For those who are vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic, having friends and family pull together to support them, their caregivers, and each other will go a long way.

About the author

Jennifer Palisoc

Jennifer Palisoc is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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