Experts share how to communicate with family dealing with dementia during pandemic

Repetition and routine are crucial for patients dealing with dementia and Alzheimers. Now experts are sharing how to communicate under our nation's temporary normal of social distancing.

Posted: Apr 5, 2020 7:46 PM
Updated: Apr 6, 2020 12:09 AM

GREATER LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — Repetition and routine are crucial for patients dealing with dementia and Alzheimers. But while we're under a global pandemic, that can be difficult to achieve.

More than 100,000 Hoosiers are living with Alzheimer's and that number more than triples for the number of people caring for these patients.

"342,000 Hoosiers are providing unpaid care, usually as a family member or a loved one to someone with the disease," said Natalie Sutton, chapter executive for the Greater Indiana Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.

Under these uncertain times, many caretakers are wondering, how do we adjust to this new normal of living life at a distance and how do we explain it to our loved ones dealing with a fading memory?

"It depends on what level they are at," said Nancy Edwards, a professor for Purdue University's School of Nursing.

Edwards said it may be easy to compare these times to terms they're familiar with.

"How I explain it to them is that it's like a flu outbreak because they may not understand, you know, the COVID and all that but they do understand the flu," said Edwards.

When it comes to making sure the person you're caring for is practicing good hygiene, little reminders can go a long way.

"You can put up signs to remind them to wash their hands," said Edwards.

And for those more resistant, creating a task for them might make them more willing to wash.

"Put plastic cups into a sink of water and tell them they're washing dishes and by putting their hands in there and washing the dishes they're actually washing their hands," said Edwards.

Dr. Marcy Gibbs, medical director of IU Health Hospice suggests creating a conversation about COVID with an acronym in mind: C-A-L-M-E-R, which stands for check-in, ask open-ended questions, lay out the issues, motivate them, expect emotion and record the discussion.

"If the concerns of your loved one are something completely unrelated to COVID, and when you ask have you heard of this and they say no, it may not be necessary to go into a whole explanation on what it is," said Gibbs.

While caretakers are working to be a helpful source for those they serve, the Indiana Alzheimer's Association is working to be a source for caretakers.

"We're providing everything from our 24-7 helpline to virtual support groups and virtual education programs," said Sutton.

You can find information on how to navigate conversations surrounding COVID-19 with loved ones here

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