How to communicate information about COVID-19 to Alzheimer’s patients

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. With coronavirus cases surging across the country there is no better time than the present to figure out how to explain the disease to those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. It is also an important time to stay connected with your loved one or the person you are working for as a caregiver. Take these tips and internalize them to make your relationship a stronger and healthier one for you both.

#1 Stay connected 

Separation from loved ones in nursing homes can lead to sadness, guilt, and a raft of negative emotions. That is why it is so important to stay engaged with family members despite the fact that they may need to be quarantined during the pandemic. “You can still connect through art, gifts, or even music,” said Pride PHC Vice-President Andy Cruz. “Electronic devices are a great way to stay in touch. Use your smart phone to text a photo or a song. Do whatever it takes to assist the person who is suffering from the Alzheimer’s or dementia.” You may need to teach them how to use a phone more than once, but the more often they use it, the easier it will get for the both of you.

#2 Keep a routine

Routines are always important when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, but routines are even more imperative because the coronavirus pandemic. Bannerhealth.com says you should make a habit of wiping down high-traffic surfaces, washing hands, and other good hygiene habits. Other suggestions include coloring or crafts, organizing items around the house, spending time outside with social distancing, and simple exercising such as walking or chair stretching. The more normalcy you can keep in their lives the better. 

#3 Use written reminders more frequently

For those with dementia, increased confusion can be a signal of an oncoming illness. Even without that illness, confusion is common and extra written reminders to support good hygiene are a great idea. “Try placing signs in a bathroom and in the kitchen to remind your client or loved one to wash their hands often and for at least 20 seconds,” said Cruz. The Alzheimer’s Association also recommends placing hand sanitizer throughout the living space with a note by each one suggesting using it frequently. They also suggest having a primary care physician fill out medication prescriptions for several months at a time to avoid excessive trips to the store that aren’t needed.

#4 Talk about the pandemic in a way those with Alzheimer’s can understand

In order to engage in this this conversation, you’ll first need to make sure you know where your loved one is emotionally and cognitively. Some of the tips recommended are keeping your words as simple as possible, avoid frightening statistics, staying calm throughout the conversation, focusing on the positives and putting the situation in a context they can understand. “Also make sure to emphasize how much this person means to you,” said Cruz. “You can do this by telling them something specific that makes their relationship important to you.” 

#5 Communicate through body language and physical contact

When speech becomes difficult for those with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia, body language and physical contact can become wonderful tools to help you communicate. Nidirect Government Services says you can do this by being patient, talking to them from a respectful distance to avoid intimidating them, and even patting or holding their hand while talking to them as a way to help reassure them and make you feel closer. Most important, before changing any kind of communication technique, make sure that you understand your loved one or your client, and what changes they may be able to endure.

Use these tips as guideposts for your relationship as a caregiver and try to avoid drastic changes to make navigating the coronavirus pandemic less complicated for you and those with Alzheimer’s.

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