People with Neurodegenerative Diseases Including Dementia Among Those Most Vulnerable to COVID-19

Published: Apr 03, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic can put extraordinary strain on people with neurodegenerative disease and their caregivers. Having Alzheimer’s or a related disease does not by itself render a person susceptible to COVID-19. However, their age and co-existing health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, etc. predispose them to a higher risk of complications related to COVID-19 compared to others without neurodegenerative disease.

Behaviour symptoms arising from cognitive impairment or dementia can increase the possibility of infection. Persons with Alzheimer’s disease need consistent reminders, or help, to wash their hands or change their clothes.  Individuals with frontotemporal dementia struggle with social distancing, and those with communication challenges have trouble understanding the pandemic or communicating their concerns to caregivers. This can be overwhelming for caregivers.

The task of protecting individuals with dementia from the risk of COVID-19 falls squarely on the shoulders of caregivers. In the home, many caregivers, such as spouses, are older adults and thus vulnerable themselves. Social-distancing measures mean these caregivers are taking on even more work themselves. While many family caregivers previously relied on visits from other family members or friends or neighbors for temporarily relief, with those visits being discouraged now, primary caregivers get no breaks. 

Families relying on in-home healthcare aides would now have to ensure that healthcare workers coming into the house are healthy and adhering to strict hygiene practices, to protect their loved one from infection. Besides their growing workload, the relentless news cycle about COVID-19 acts as its own stressor. When caregivers get stressed, people with dementia pick up and mirror their feelings, but they are not able to process them effectively. This can lead to mood changes and behavior changes, further overwhelming caregivers. 

Some stress reduction strategies for caregivers include limiting television and social media news feeds to once a day when the person with dementia is not around. It is important to find time daily for active relaxation - to listen to your favourite music, to do some meditation, and physical activity when possible.

To all caregivers out there, we would like to say ‘Thank You’! We would like to remind you that you are not alone. We are here for you, just a phone call away. If you are dealing with similar situations, and could use some support, please call (403) 290-0110 or email info@alzheimercalgary.ca