Dementia Dilemma – Hints and tips on how carers can help people living with dementia understand and deal with Coronavirus

 Coronavirus and all its implications is difficult for any of us to deal with let alone a person with dementia. Trying to explain why a person cannot go out, get close to people, visit family and friends or do their usual daily tasks is an ongoing and exhausting dilemma for carers. Changes in routine can lead to anxiety and other negative behaviours.

It’s a common problem which many carers are dealing with so an appeal was sent via the Alzheimer’s Society’s E-News service asking both service users and professionals for their suggestions on what carers could do to tackle this issue. Below are their responses. Obviously, every person is different so not all suggestions will suit everyone. Hopefully they will give you some ‘real life’ ideas to help your particular situation. Some comments have been left in their original state and some have been simplified to reflect a common theme.

Suggest to the person that ‘today we’ll have a stay at home day’ and plan activities accordingly. This could be repeated each day of isolation.

I wrote down one sentence at a time about the virus and mum read it back to me with some reactions actually as she read it out loud. The end result of several sentences in a bright colourful pen - I have put by her table mat where she sits for breakfast, lunch and tea so that perhaps she might read it for a few days and I can read back to her every few days?

Put the TV/radio on throughout the day so that the person is aware of the current situation and receives regular information, reinforcing the need to stay at home etc.

The above suggestion may cause distress for some people so distraction techniques will be needed such as conversation or activities.

Distraction from the news – put Mr Motivator or something similar on TV & try to do some exercise. Dance to some music etc. (strategies to tire the person out).

Make the person feel useful – around the house…asking them to help with cleaning, making drinks and so on.

Put music on instead of the dreaded TV.

Put a sign on the front door stating ‘Danger, do not go out’ and even add some information about the virus.

We have a similar issue with my mum who has very recently gone into respite care. We have been sending cards or letters regularly explaining why we aren’t visiting. I try to include past memories about people or situations she will still remember e.g. “ Do you remember how elegant grandma R was with all those amazing hats?” or “I bumped into S who worked with you in the police... he says hi.”

Take photos of shops, pubs, cafes etc. that are closed and are the usual places a person may visit to show them what the situation is.

My friend’s Mum who just went into a care home before the virus, not great timing, we keep telling her she is in a private hospital and must stay there to keep safe until the government say so. She seems to respond to this….repeated hourly!!

Explain that there is a nasty bug going around and going out/mixing with people may make you poorly. This can also be used to encourage a person to wash their hands regularly.

I am finding it hard to explain why when Mum looks out of the window and sees say young mums with their children etc. walking about, she asks why they are out? I explain this by saying (as true to the fact as I can) children have to go out for exercise at least once a day so they don’t get ill, they can only be out for half an hour max and only once.  We have even sat together to see if we can spot anyone twice!! (she is sort of a neighbourhood watch at the moment!)

Get friends and family to call, Skype, Facetime at regular intervals during the day and ask them to tell the person that they can’t go out because of the virus.

My children have been a great help when trying to explain the importance of my mum staying in, they will phone her and tell her what they have done that day i.e. school work, keep fit work outs, how they feel and most importantly that they can’t go out either and they are only  allowed to go out for a short while to exercise, otherwise they might get sick or in trouble. They agree with her that it is boring and frustrating but they are doing it to keep her safe and well and it won’t be forever.  We don’t put a timeline on it as she then fixates on this date and obviously the timings no one knows how long this will be for.  We just keep saying soon we will be able to do this and go here.

Go for a little walk at a quiet time to help with social distancing.

Watch old films/TV programs to help distract.

Put a little note up to say that today they can’t go out because …. (not very well, car not working or something like – I know we are not supposed to white lie but these are exceptional times).

Weather permitting, go into the garden, if you have one and enjoy time outdoors.

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