Be calm and kind
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has many people panicking, which is understandable—especially our older adult population and their family members. It is important that we remember that everyone around us is affected and that we have the opportunity to be a kind and calm influence in this situation.
Remember, your loved one with dementia will pick up on your moods and will absorb your emotions. Dementia takes away the skills needed to manage emotions. Our loved ones are relying on us to stay calm and to help them to stay safe and positive in this situation.
Get your news from reliable sources
First, try not to overreact. Pay attention to what is happening in the news but get your news from reliable sources. Visit websites like the ones listed below and refrain from believing everything that you read in emails and social media circles.
World Health Organization advice for public:
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information:
Limit news consumption
Second, limit your consumption of the news in general, especially when you are with your loved one who is experiencing dementia. News stories that are disturbing can affect your loved one’s mood and unlike someone with a healthy brain, they will not be able to decide to think about something happier later in the evening. They may just remain upset and not know why. You can check on the news daily, yourself, but don’t involve your loved one experiencing dementia.
How to keep your loved one with dementia safe
A person with dementia may be at increased risk for catching the coronavirus (or any flu virus) because they may not remember (or want) to do things like wash their hands or keep their distance from others in public. I cover the challenge of persuading someone to wash their hands in the “Sense of Value” chapter of my book, Dementia with Dignity (and in Lessons 6 and 7 of the DAWN HomeCare Dementia Training for Families course). Here is an excerpt from the book:
…we reframed the act of handwashing from something she did to protect us from her dirty hands to something we did together to protect ourselves from other people’s germs. I hadn’t thought about it before, but to suggest that her hands were dirty was to imply that she was at fault for something—to subtly but surely lower her status. With the new approach, I would begin washing my own hands the moment she reappeared from the toilet stall and say, ‘Oh Sherri, I always wash my hands very carefully in these public bathrooms because I don’t want to catch the flu or a cold. Other people use this bathroom too. You never know what kinds of germs they might be carrying.”From Dementia with Dignity by Judy Cornish (p. 223)
We need to remember that our loved one with dementia is constantly facing threats to their self-worth. It is demoralizing to never be in charge and to be told what to do. By blaming the problem on a third party, we communicate that we are partners and that we both have to do this thing because of someone else. We communicate that we’re in this together.
Removing a person with dementia from assisted living or memory care facilities
If you have removed your loved one from a group facility in order to care for them at home during this crisis, you are probably overwhelmed. Please explore our blog for tips on how to provide person-centered, strength-based dementia care at home.
Again, remember that we are all in this together. Check on your friends and neighbors (by phone is the safest way). Wash your hands. Encourage your loved one with dementia to wash their hands (and don’t feel bad about blaming someone else for the germs in this case!). And be kind to those who are more vulnerable than you by not venturing out if you think you may have been exposed to the virus or are sick.