Dementia caregivers face challenges amid COVID-19

ROCKFORD, Ill (WIFR) -- Stay inside, wash your hands and only leave the house if necessary. Those are the seemingly simple tasks the government is asking everyone to do. These measures are put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19. However simple the task may seem, it's a challenging request for those with dementia.

Dementia care and COVID-19

"If they ask, of course don't hide it," says Joe Landmichl of the Alzheimer's Association of Illinois Rockford Chapter. "Just say 'oh right now a lot of people are getting sick, so we want to make sure that we're staying healthy.' You don't have to go into deep detail, again you want to be the example."

Cognitively, someone with dementia might not understand the pandemic. "Patience is a virtue, we all have to work on that right now," says Jennifer Bowman of Azura Memory Care. "They might not be [thinking] in 2020, and this might all be very weird to them."

Bowman says there are ways to ensure they practice proper hygiene. She suggests caregivers grasp their hand on top of their loved one's, and help them perform tasks like washing their hands or eating. She says mirroring can be a great example.

"We're kind of going to have to think outside the box," says Landmichl. He says caregivers don't usually ask for help, but in a time like this he says there is no shame in needing advice. He says the Alzheimer's Association hotline runs 24/7 and can translate 200 languages. It offers advice and aid. The number is 800-272-3900.

Another symptom of dementia is wandering, and leaving the home. During the stay at home order this poses a threat to the wellbeing of those struggling. There are ways to find interest in indoor activities.

"Reminiscing is always an awesome tool," says Bowman. "Going through old photo albums, or making a life book for them helps." She also says it's helpful that technology is so far advanced in 2020 as it creates tools to stay connected.

"Use Facetime, use Messenger, use Zoom, call the grandkids," she explains. "Use all the tools available and try to keep it as light as possible."

She suggests not watching the news often, as it may confuse or scare someone who is not thinking in 2020 terms. Experts also say to keep calm as caregivers, and give yourself a break during these challenging times.

"Remind them that they are loved, remind them that they are safe and remind them you are there to care for them," says Bowman.