Penny Patnaude, founder, Caregiver Strategist LLC

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the medical industry and the lives of families, especially those that have loved ones with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

The population of residents in memory care, adult living and continued care retirement communities, senior homes, skilled nursing, and veteran assistant facilities who suffer from the mildest stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia are having the most challenging time during this pandemic.

Pandemic creates particular stresses for dementia patients

Long-term friends have died within the facilities; residents are experiencing a vast amount of changes in their daily routine. Chaos, illness, and numerous deaths are not easy for many professionals to deal with, much less a person who no longer possesses cognitive abilities to reason. They, too, are living with the trauma and consequences.

Over 40% of people with dementia-related to Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases suffer from depression; 30% of people with vascular dementia experience depression. Isolating individuals with cognitive ailments is like losing an essential human right.

Socialization for many in care facilities is the milestone of the day; it provides a sense of belongingness, value, purpose, and group identification. The combination of dementia, isolation, losing friendships, family, and companions are alarming, a cause for fear, anger, anxiety, fatigue, sadness, and stress can all lead to or worsen depression.

Patients may mirror caregivers’ behaviors and demeanor

A person with dementia will often emulate feelings in their environment; they detect body language, tone, and facial expressions and can “read the room.” People have six essential sensory receptors, touch, movement, sound, sight, smell, and taste. Various stimuli in the environment can overload and exhaust even non-responsive people. Some patients with dementia will mirror the presented behavior.

Visual acuity problems or hallucinations will affect how people see. With the addition of masks to help protect the spread of the virus, it is challenging to acknowledge facial expressions.

Stay calm and remember the key role of kindness

Therefore, it is crucial to speak with a calm, non-threatening voice at a slow pace and use soft eye contact. Continue to engage, but more delicately.

Use extra gentleness with touch; it doesn’t mean taking a long time.

Changing your demeanor as a practitioner of health can alter the mood of exchanges inside places of care. Take a few deep breaths before communicating with a resident. Even if you can only do it at the beginning of the shift, make a positive habit or shift in energy – it’s beneficial for everyone.

Remember the basics, ask for permission before engaging with the individual, introduce yourself again, exchange pleasantries, explain your actions, and tell them why. Continuous observation of behaviors makes changes easier to implement.

All of us are under extreme pressure, fear, and uncertainty. Right now, a little extra kindness goes a long way.

Penny Patnaude is a former caregiver for loved ones with dementia. She is the founder of Caregiver Strategist LLC, a company that specializes in dementia care education and training for families and healthcare professionals responsible for people diagnosed with dementia.

Penny’s certifications include Dementia Care Practitioner and Trainer, Consultant, Educator, and Facilitator. Penny holds an MA and BA. She is author of Caregiver Mantra Meditations and is a speaker, wife, mother, and advocate for all caregivers. For more information, visit www.caregiverstrategist.com.