Everyone is still trying to adjust to the brave new world of Covid-19. Things changed so quickly and thoroughly that it can be hard to remember that just a few short weeks ago we still were not too concerned about the threat. Now events are cancelled and most people seem to feel safer the more they can stay home. Although Florida is gradually re-opening, chances are that access to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities will be restricted for a while longer. Caring for a loved one with dementia is hard enough, but dealing with the Coronavirus and Dementia is particularly hard. If you are caring for someone with dementia, how to you explain the coronavirus? How do you explain why you’re not able to take them shopping, to the Senior Center or to church? How much should you tell your loved one and how to explain it?
Here are some thoughts about how to respond to questions about the changed world to a person with dementia who lives with you.
I live with my dad who has dementia. How much should I share with him about Covid-19 and what is happening?
Answer: Think about what is in his best interest right now. If he’s asking questions that you think he’ll understand the answer to and it will alleviate his confusion, give him information. But if his cognition has been affected by his dementia to the point that he has limited understanding or retention of new information and it will only make him more anxious or confused, it is probably best not to explain the current world situation. Carry on as normal as possible and limit his exposure to the news.
We should all be washing our hands more often due to Covid-19. How do I get him to wash his hands more often?
Answer: It will probably work better if you show the behavior rather than telling him to do it. Bring him to the sink and wash your hands together. Break it down step by step if needed. Make it fun- play some music he likes and sing along to the music. If handwashing proves too difficult, use hand sanitizer. You can even put it in your hand and ask if you can massage his hands. Remember to replace paper napkins with hand wipes and clean surfaces more often.
He wants to go the Senior Center and the coffee shop. How can I get him to understand that it just is not possible now?
Answer: He might not be able to understand because he is living with cognitive changes. Depending on the type of dementia he has, there may be damage to the part of his brain that allows him to understand logic, see your point of view, and make sound decisions for himself. Stay calm and patient. Remind yourself that is it not his fault that he cannot understand. It is a symptom of the dementia. Instead, set up a new routine with meaningful activities that he will enjoy in place of the old normal pastimes. Phrases like “I’m sorry. I know this is hard. I wish we could go out, but we can’t right now” or “The doctor doesn’t want us to go anywhere for today so we have to listen to the doctor” can be helpful in diffusing your dad’s anger. He still won’t like it, but older adults will often respect the wishes of authorities like doctors, lawyers and police officers. Use that respect to your advantage here. Plus it might get you off the hook as the bad guy!
How long will the Covid-19 situation last and how long will with have to deal with Coronavirus and Dementia? Some experts say that social distancing should continue for several more months, with people over 65 continuing to shelter in place. There is also concern with a possible second wave of infections and deaths this fall. In the meantime, extend your patience and kindness to your loved one. If it is confusing for you, just imagine how it must feel to him.
If you could use help planning for your loved one’s care, don’t forget that Burzynski Elder Law is still open to serve you. We can now meet with you via telephone or video conferencing. Just call our office at 239-434-8557.