When a widespread illness impacts older people in the community, it becomes especially important for people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias to be protected. COVID-19 (also called “Coronavirus,” though that term is more general) will feel like a cold or flu for most people, but it is dangerous for older populations. Someone who is older than 60, with chronic illness, is most at risk.
Alzheimer’s disease primarily impacts people who are older than 60, and this means friends, family, caregivers, and staff in memory care and assisted living communities should be extremely diligent about safeguarding people with Alzheimer’s.
This article is about COVID-19, and how to best protect your loved one with dementia.
COVID-19 is transmitted by droplets exhaled, coughed, or sneezed by people who have the virus. If these droplets land on an object or surface, it can be transmitted when someone touches that object or surface and then touches their own face. This is why experts are advising everyone to wash their hands often, and avoid touching your face.
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:
– Dry cough
Other symptoms include:
– Runny nose
– Aches and pains
– Sore throat
Most people (roughly 80 percent) who get the virus will recover without special treatment. The other 20 percent may experience the most worrying symptom: difficulty breathing.
People with the following conditions are in particular danger of falling within that 20 percent:
– Heart disease
– High blood pressure
– Lung disease
The following precautions are most likely in assisted living communities that serve people with dementia (memory care):
– Increased emphasis on cleaning
– Cancelling community events or excursions
– Limiting visitors
If you are frustrated by not being able to see your loved one because of a change in visitation policy, it’s important to remember that people who don’t even know they’re sick could accidentally cause an outbreak. And this virus, again, is much more dangerous for people who are older.
Some memory care homes may still allow visits, and it’s on family members to decide whether or not to enter the home. Do not go visit your loved one if you:
– have traveled abroad in the last month,
– have even mild symptoms,
– have recently been near anyone who may have been sick.
It is possible that doctor appointments and other trips outside the home will be cancelled to further safeguard against getting the virus.
Increased cleaning protocols will probably include:
– Frequently (about every two hours) disinfecting door knobs, elevator buttons, phones, handrails, and anywhere else that is often touched
– More mopping, scrubbing, etc., in areas that are high-traffic, like hallways and gathering areas
– Protective equipment like masks and gloves
What follows is a list of precautions to take against the spread of COVID-19. Caregivers will need to help loved ones by using communication techniques that work for people with thinking and memory difficulties. Remember to remain calm, because someone with dementia is very sensitive to agitation in others.
Also consider taking these steps:
– Regularly wash hands. Scrub hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. If this is difficult for your loved one, help by using the hand-under-hand technique. Be gentle and communicative the entire time.
– Alcohol-based hand sanitizer will also help defend against the virus. Again, be gentle and communicative as you help your loved one apply the sanitizer.
– Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Discourage your loved one from doing this as well, as gently as you can. Don’t get angry if they won’t change behavior, just continue reminding.
– Cover coughs and sneezes with single-use tissue, and then throw the tissue away.
– Clean areas that are often touched. Regular household sprays or wipes are fine. (The CDC’s list of cleaning products registered for use against COVID-19 is available here.)
– Stock up on medications (speak with your doctor about getting extra) and supplies like food, in case it becomes necessary to remain at home for an extended time.
– It is probably best to remain at home as much as possible, to limit exposure. Activities like watching classic movies or listening to music can help pass the time.
– When venturing outside, maintain a distance of about three feet from others, especially if they’re coughing or sneezing.