How to support someone with dementia as lockdowns loosen
Closures that have lasted for months in some states have seen strict restrictions on visitors to nursing homes. So, as the blockages loosen, and if you are vaccinated, you may be planning a happy reunion with your friend or family.
If your loved one has dementia, you may be wondering if their symptoms got worse during confinement or if they remember who you are.
Here’s what to look out for on your first visit after confinement is over, and how to support your loved one afterward.
Read more: Why not all people with dementia behave the same
Expect a drop
Closures can lead to a decline in the number of people with dementia, especially those living in nursing homes.
Research blockages in 2020 showed that people with dementia had more difficulty thinking and problem solving. Their behavior and mood deteriorated. Some studies have shown that people are less able to do things at home or take care of themselves.
Staying active mentally, physically and socially helps people with dementia maintain their brains and thinking. But during lockdown, when people with dementia did less, they put less work on their brains and bodies.
Read more: How to best celebrate Christmas with someone with dementia
The closures meant not only a ban on visitors to nursing homes, but limited stimulation of group activities, such as concerts, school tours and bus trips.
Sometimes the residents did not understand why they could not move freely around the nursing home and why their relatives had stopped visiting them. This has led to an increase in behaviors, such as restlessness.
After the start of the confinements, there was a raise in prescriptions internationally reported psychotropic drugs. These drugs are used in nursing homes to manage behaviors such as aggression and agitation.
The first visit can be difficult
Some families may be worried about their first visit in several months with someone with dementia.
They may fear that their loved one has gotten worse or be afraid of not recognizing it.
But it can be helpful to think of visits as a very important mental stimulation and human connection for your loved one, even if the visits can be emotionally difficult for you.
Introduce yourself: “Hi Dad, it’s Ali,” if it seems your loved one can’t figure out who you are or your name.
Read their reactions to you. If they need some time to warm up (which can be disappointing if you’re close), chat with someone else who’s there. The person might enjoy your company even if they aren’t actively involved in the conversation at the start.
Then invite them to participate in the conversation by asking their opinion: “How is the dog?” or “I can’t wait to go to the hairdresser, how about you?”
Prepare an activity to do together based on their interests. You can walk in the garden, browse a magazine about the royal family, sing a favorite album.
If it is a noisy gathering, find a quiet place for a one-on-one conversation, as the person may have difficulty concentrating when there are several people talking at the same time.
Read more: Five tips for talking to kids about dementia
Let them know when you will be back
Because of your long separation, your loved one might be very emotional or clingy when you go away.
Let them know when you come back. You can write it in their calendar or on a card to give to them. You can also inform the nursing home staff so that they can remind them.
You can also leave a visual reminder of your visit. It could be a card or a photograph, or flowers with a note.
If possible, resume a visiting routine.
If you notice a drop
Families are more likely to notice minor or marked changes in their loved one’s ability if they haven’t seen them for several months. This could mean noticing the first signs of dementia or getting symptoms worse if they have already been diagnosed.
So it can be a delicate conversation have with your loved one.
Many people may be on the defensive or deny the changes, blaming them on “old age” and fear they may have dementia.
You may need to have the conversation several times to get them to see the doctor. Call the National Dementia Helpline at 1800 100 500 for advice.
Read more: How to check if your mom or dad’s nursing home is up to par
Longer term, consider rehabilitation
Rehabilitation help people with dementia. It is therefore worth considering what support services your loved one might need.
A psychologist can help you with strategies to deal with memory and reflection; an occupational therapist can help you do everyday things around the house; an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist can help with mobility; and a speech therapist can help you Communication.
Family caregivers can talk to their loved one’s dementia specialist or ask their GP for a Chronic disease management plan for certain subsidized rehabilitation sessions.
If you are not the primary caregiver
If you are not the primary caregiver, make sure that person has some support. Ask them how they are feeling and what support you can offer.
The caregivers were provide more help during confinements to people with dementia living in the community. This is because there were fewer services available and people with dementia needed help complying with the restrictions.
Offer to spend time with the person with dementia so that the caregiver can take a break. Or take the caregiver for a meal and some social time restrictions have now relaxed.