Unique Challenges of Dementia Care During the Coronavirus Crisis

“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.” – Mister Rogers

We are all facing difficult challenges during this time of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.  For organizations providing dementia care, this situation presents unique challenges and requires providers to adapt further to create a comfortable environment for residents living with memory loss.

Individuals living with memory loss may be dealing with extra stress brought on by the COVID-19 containment measures such as restrictions on activities and alterations to the daily routines that are so valuable to them. These changes in routine have caused frustration for residents at all levels of living, but have also brought out creative and compassionate alternatives for keeping residents engaged and “together while apart.” Examples of these efforts have been circulating social media and provide a look at how senior living organizations are remaining positive and are doing their best to provide care and hope to their residents, especially those in higher levels of care.

With this in mind, it’s important to stay positive and know that this unimaginable crisis we are all going through will come to an end though we still have the here and now to contend with. Though not a comprehensive list, here are some thoughts on ways to try and keep residents with dementia calm and healthy which could in turn help make daily life for everyone in your community as “normal” as possible.

Maintain Routine

Residents with dementia rely on their daily routines to know what to expect and this, in turn, provides them with a sense of security and comfort.  Although some disruption in their routine will be unavoidable during this time, keeping things as normal as possible will help to increase their feelings of independence and to decrease unwanted changes in behavior and confusion.

Increase Focus on Person-Centered Care

The person-centered care that a community already provides to their residents with dementia can become even more critical during this coronavirus pandemic.  Communities may have staff who contract the virus and are unable to return to work for a period of time which would require administration to hire temporary or substitute caregivers to provide resident care.  This being the case, the ability to share valuable information regarding the values, strengths, choices and preferences of individual residents would be very beneficial to a new employee in order to provide the best individualized care for the well-being of each resident. 

Additionally, even for staff who are familiar with the residents, it might be necessary to refer to an individual’s person-centered care plan in case never-experienced situations arise due to the unique challenges of this time, which would require appropriate behavior intervention in order to keep this individual safe and calm.

Increase Awareness of Agitated or Unusual Behavior

As dementia progresses, residents become unable to articulate what they are feeling or why, which can cause them to become agitated.  This requires care providers to take on the role of “detective” to figure out what the unmet need is that they are trying to express. Adding potential COVID-19 symptoms to the existing complexities of this communication challenge could cause a delay in diagnosis and treatment.

Encourage Fluid Intake and Hand Washing

Drinking plenty of water and healthy eating are always things to encourage residents to do, and even more so during this time where doing things that increase a healthy immunity are extremely important. Implementing a daily supervised hand washing schedule would also be a positive preventive action to encourage.

Help Residents and Loved Ones Stay Connected

The extent that a community can use technology to assist with video connection between residents and their loved ones will vary, but would be a great substitute for the lack of face to face interaction.  Helping residents to make or receive phone calls or writing and reading mailed letters or cards are other ways of helping them maintain connections with loved ones.

Navigating this crisis is challenging for all of us.  This situation adds further complexity to caring for residents with dementia, but with some careful consideration to the unique needs of these individuals, care providers may feel more confident to appropriately support them and help each other through this difficult time.

For more useful information to help senior living organizations navigate the challenges presented by COVID-19, visit the Love & Company blog for in-depth articles and resources. To learn more about how Love & Company can help your organization maintain its marketing and sales efforts during this time, contact Tim Bracken at 410-207-0013 or tbracken@loveandcompany.com.

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