Dementia patients and caregivers face new challenges with COVID-19
The Alzheimer's Association Greater Missouri Chapter is working to provide resources to individuals who have Alzheimer's or another form of dementia and their caregivers.At least 120,000 people in Missouri have Alzheimer's and there are around three caregivers for each person with the disease.
Caring for someone with dementia can be extra difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic because they may need reminders to do things such as washing their hands.
"They're usually older in age and we know those who are older are more susceptible to the disease and its effects because of their inability to remember and follow some of those basic hygiene requests," said Kristen Hilty, a care consultant with the association.
She said caregivers can put up reminders around the house to wash hands for 20 seconds and lead by example.
Hilty also said illness such as COVID-19 can be more difficult to recognize in individuals who have dementia.
The Alzheimer's Association has created resources specific to the coronavirus pandemic, such as online education classes and support groups, at alz.org/mohelp.
Help is also available on the 24-hour hotline at 1-800-272-3900.
"You can call and really ask any question that you have, whether it's specific to the coronavirus pandemic, if you have a question about a behavior that you're noticing or that's troublesome for you to manage in this time," Hilty said.
Stay-at-home orders have created added stress for patients and caregivers because people are not allowed to visit nursing homes, long-term care facilities or other health care facilities.
"They're standing outside windows of nursing homes with a sign that says, 'Mom I love you,' or talking to them on the phone through a window or a door," Cottle said. "That's very very difficult in a normal circumstance, but trying to explain to that loved one, no you can't leave for your weekly lunch, no I can't come in and hug you, that's just heartbreaking."
On top of some people not being able to visit their loved ones, others might have a difficult time running errands for essential needs.
"COVID-19 has added this incredibly difficult dimension to caregivers. Caregivers are already isolated. They're already not able to get out and about," said Amelia Cottle, a volunteer with the association. "When they do get out and about it's very difficult for them to be taking their loved one with them or finding care so they can get out by themselves."
The virus has also made it more difficult to get health care workers into homes.
"Health care workers are stretched to their limit. So if you have home health coming to your home they might not be available. They might be self-isolating themselves," Cottle said.
Hilty said caregivers also need to come up with a plan for if they become sick. She suggested having health information such as insurance in one place.
Cottle said anyone can help by reaching out to their neighbors and offering to run errands or even provide company during the pandemic. She said this can be especially important in rural areas, where individuals may not have as much access to the internet or other services.
The Alzheimer's Association is the world's leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer care, support and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer's disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer's. For more information, visit www.alz.org.