Supporting a Loved one Living with Dementia in a Care Home During Pandemic

Published: Apr 16, 2020
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As you are aware, new restrictions are now being enforced limiting visitors to long-term care and assisted living centres to protect the health of their residents. If your loved one is in a care home, this is a very stressful time for you. Not being able to visit them as often as you would normally do, would cause significant anxiety and worry.

Your loved one would also be worried and anxious, missing your regular visits. They may not be able to understand and remember why you are not able to visit them in person.

There could be changes in their routine, with social distancing and safe practices being observed in care homes. Meal times could look different with meal being served to residents in their rooms, and group activities may be cancelled or decreased.

The resulting changes in routine, lack of support, and stimulation derived from your visits, combined with inability to understand and remember why you are not visiting them, could contribute to mood and behavior changes. This can manifest in many forms such as low mood and energy, increased confusion, apathy, refusal of care, refusal of food, anger, poor sleep etc.

You can support your loved one, and ensure that he or she is getting proper care, during this challenging time in several ways. The first and foremost point to remember is to stay connected.

Staying away does not mean staying disconnected. There are several innovative ways in which you can stay connected with your loved ones during this time

Creative Strategies for supporting your loved one in care

  • Communicate via letters and cards
  • Drop off care packages at the care home, to ensure that the loved one has adequate supplies of medications, hand sanitizers, favourite music CDs, puzzles, coloring books, and favourite snacks/ foods.
  • Use technology –phone, video chat, FaceTime, text and email.
    • If the person doesn't know how to use the technology, get a staff member to assist with phone call or video chat.
    • If facility staff assist in setting up equipment, request that they leave the resident's room, so you're able to chat privately.
    • Ask other family members and friends to send short video greetings that the resident can watch at any time. Staff can also help resident to record videos to send in response.

    • If your family member is unable to engage in calls or video chats, ask the facility how you can keep in touch with facility staff in order to get updates. If your loved one’s care has been assigned to a particular staff member, check with the facility if you could get regular update from the staff.

  • Children can participate in this initiative by writing notes, uploading a drawing, or sending a short video to grandma or grandpa in assisted living facilities.
  • Alternatively, arrange to meet the person outside their window or arrange a visit outside a glass door.

Supporting your loved one via virtual meetings or visits

  • When you meet or connect virtually with your loved one, speak calmly and reassuringly, as you would normally. Please be mindful of your own mental state and ensure that you are not conveying your anxieties and worries to your loved one Be aware that your loved one can pick up and feed off your emotions.
  • Share happy memories and help your loved one reminisce those fond memories. Alternatively, share a funny story or a joke and have a good laugh together.
  • You could talk about one of their favorite songs and sing it for the person or better still, sing it together. You may not think much of it, but the joy and the positive emotions your loved one experiences from these short activities can keep him or her going for a long time.
  • You could do an activity with your loved one - sing a favourite song, solve a puzzle etc. over zoom chat, if your loved one has an I-pad or can access one from the care home. If the care home is able to provide an I-pad, request the staff to wipe it down carefully before handing it to your loved one.
  • In case your loved one is repeatedly asking why you are not visiting, tell the person that because of an infection in the community, you are not allowed to visit. Alternatively, you may say that you are having a cold and cough, and you do not want to make him or her sick. Use your discretion about what explanation to give, based on your loved one’s abilities and emotional state. Keep it short and simple, and move on. Avoid long explanations and unnecessary details and move on to a more pleasant topic.
  • In order to ensure that your loved one cooperates with the care home staff in all personal care tasks, create a short video, greeting your loved one, and requesting them to comply with the staff’s request. You could make individual, short I-2 minute videos to remind your loved one to eat well, have a bath, to take medications on time etc. This will not only be helpful for the staff, but it will also ensure that your loved one is eating well and getting appropriate care.
  • Take care of your mental health (and also offer resources and suggestions to your loved ones in care home) while social distancing.
    • Brainstorm ideas for maintaining regular activities with the care home staff like playing bingo by using call lights, conducting an exercise class via video chat, or playing individual games like bowling in the hallway.
  • Utilize free online resources and share with your loved ones, based on their interest. Some of these are:

Written by Padmaja Genesh, Learning Specialist at the Alzheimer Society of Calgary.