The COVID-19 pandemic presents unique challenges for more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, as well as their family caregivers. This article from the Alzheimer’s Association answers some common questions and outlines what your family needs to know during the pandemic.
The article is a one-on-one Q&A interview with Beth Kallmyer, Vice President, Care and Support at the Alzheimer’s Association. She was asked to tackle the topics which most affect caregivers and the ones they love, along with frequently asked questions asked through the Azheimer’s free 24/7 Helpline. Here is the interview:
Beth, we know that dementia doesn’t increase risk for COVID-19. However, those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia may have an increased risk due to other behaviors and conditions. What are these primary risk factors?
A variety of factors come into play when it comes to risk, primarily dementia-related behaviors, increased age and other chronic health conditions. Families should be aware that the elderly, especially those with preexisting chronic conditions — such as heart disease, respiratory issues or diabetes — are at the highest risk for complications from COVID-19.
We know that people living with dementia are often underdiagnosed for viruses like the flu, and viruses like COVID-19 may also worsen cognitive impairment due to dementia. If your loved one has flu-like symptoms, take the person’s temperature. Do not go directly to an emergency room unless the person is having difficulty breathing paired with a very high fever. Your doctor may be able to treat your loved one without a hospital visit.
What are the crucial hygiene tips for those providing care to people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia?
Caregivers and loved ones in the home will likely need to assist people living with dementia practice safe hygiene. As people with dementia may fail to wash their hands or follow other precautions to ensure safe hygiene, it is the caregivers that must be vigilant.
Some tactics for keeping these habits in place include demonstrating proper, thorough hand-washing with the person affected; placing signs in and near the bathroom indicating that it is important for people to wash their hands with soap; and keeping alcohol-based hand sanitizer in the home as a hand-washing alternative. You may also consider a hand-washing schedule.
The Alzheimer’s Association encourages caregivers to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regarding COVID-19. This includes avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth, avoiding contact with people who are ill, covering coughing or sneezing with a tissue, disinfecting frequently touched objects in the home and washing your hands consistently.
For people with Alzheimer’s and dementia living at home, what advice do you recommend to limit visitors for the health of these caregivers and their loved ones?
As the majority of people living with Alzheimer’s are over age 65, this puts this population at the highest risk for complications from COVID-19, especially if a person with dementia has other chronic conditions. Caregivers should be proactive in protecting their loved ones by preventing contact with anyone outside of the immediate household, except in cases where absolutely essential. Know that it is okay to say “no” during this time of crisis to protect everyone involved.
If your loved one requires in-home care, outside caregivers should be screened regarding their current health to ensure they are not experiencing any recent symptoms or bouts of illness. Don’t be afraid to ask; you are protecting yourself and your loved one.