While the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the health of millions in this country and around the world, the novel coronavirus presents unique challenges for more than 5 million Americans, including 180,000 North Carolina residents, living with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.
“Most notably, public health strategies aimed at limiting contact with others is nearly impossible for people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, who rely on family caregivers and others to live their daily lives,” said Lisa Roberts, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association – Eastern North Carolina Chapter. “This reality affects these individuals across all settings, including home, adult day services, residential and assisted living facilities and nursing homes.”
More than 16 million family and friends, including 479,000 in North Carolina, provide unpaid care to people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias in the United States. To help family caregivers navigate the current complex and quickly changing environment, the Alzheimer’s Association is offering additional guidance to families, including:
Play Gatekeeper with Outside Caregivers and Guests
The majority of individuals living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias are over age 65, putting them at the highest risk for complications from COVID-19. It’s critical that family caregivers carefully monitor who is coming into the home and to ensure all who enter are healthy. Be proactive in asking outside caregivers and guests about their current health status and make sure they are not experiencing any early or recent symptoms of illness. If your family member is in a residential, assisted-living or nursing home setting, do not visit if you have any signs or symptoms of illness.
Help People Living With Alzheimer’s Practice Safe Hygiene
People with Alzheimer’s and other dementias may forget to wash their hands or follow other precautions to ensure safe hygiene. Caregivers are encouraged to be extra vigilant in helping individuals practice safe hygiene.
Anticipate and Prepare that Current Care and Support Options May Change
As public health containment strategies for COVID-19 escalate during the next several weeks, it is important for families to anticipate that less help and support may be available. For example, many adult day care programs are shutting down during the crisis and home health services may also become less available. It’s important for families to anticipate these changes and make plans for filling gaps in caregiving.
Be Calm and Create a Nurturing Environment
The current COVID-19 pandemic is creating added anxiety for everyone. Do your best to remain calm, particularly in your interactions with family members living with dementia. Oftentimes, these individuals will take their cues from the people who surround them. Creating a calm environment will help individuals living with dementia feel safe and protected. If home health care workers or other caregivers are using surgical masks for added protection in the current environment, be sure to communicate this to the person with the disease in ways they can understand to alleviate any fear or anxiety this change may cause.
Keep Prescriptions Filled
Caregivers may also want to ask their pharmacist or doctor about filling prescriptions for a greater number of days to reduce trips to the pharmacy.
Ask Residential Care Facilities about its Communication Policies
In order to protect the health of their residents, many facilities are restricting access to outside visitors, so it’s important to ask how you can get updates on your family member’s health and how you can communicate with loved ones during the current crisis. Ask to see if phone calls, including video calls, will be offered and how best to coordinate.
Check with Residential Facilities about their Procedures for Managing COVID-19 Risk
The CDC has provided guidance to facilities on infection control and prevention of COVID-19 in nursing homes. Ensure staff have your emergency contact information and the information of another family member or friend as a backup.
Added Roberts, “The Alzheimer’s Association is here to help families take the necessary measures to prepare for and cope with such extraordinary circumstances. Many primary caregivers are not good about asking for help even as care responsibilities escalate. It’s important for family members and friends to be proactive during the current crisis in asking caregivers how they can help.”
For more information, visit alz.org or call the 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900, and visit alz.org/COVID19 to learn how you and your loved one with dementia can stay healthy.
Additional Facts and Figures: (http://www.alz.org/facts/)
• Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.
• More than five million Americans are living with the disease, including 180,000 North Carolina residents — a number estimated to grow to as many as 210,000 by year 2025.
• More than 16 million family and friends, including 479,000 in North Carolina, provide unpaid care to people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias in the United States.
• In 2019, friends and family of those with Alzheimer’s in North Carolina provided an estimated 545 million hours of unpaid care, a contribution valued at $7.15 billion.
About the Alzheimer’s Association:
The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s 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.
The Eastern North Carolina Chapter provides patient and family services, information and referral, education, and advocacy in 51 eastern North Carolina counties. We provide a variety of services including a 24/7 Helpline, support groups, educational programs, and MedicAlert®. We offer opportunities to get involved and to make a difference. For more information about Alzheimer’s disease, or the Alzheimer’s Association, Eastern North Carolina Chapter, visit www.alz.org/nc or call 800-272-3900. For the latest news and updates, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.