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Caring for a loved one with dementia during COVID-19

April 24, 2020 | Heather Shannon
tips for caregivers who care for loved ones with dementia264

Caregiving is a difficult, demanding and lonely task most of the time. 

California’s stay-at-home order has been especially tough for one caregiver population: Family members caring for someone who has dementia. 

Because of the novel coronavirus, adult daycare centers are closed temporarily and home services have been put on hold, cutting off critical support systems for this group.

‘No more support for the family member’

“When the stay-at-home order came down, I immediately knew it was going to affect caregivers,” says Jung-Ah Lee, PhD, an associate professor at the UCI Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing. “There’s no more support for their family member. It’s a really crazy situation.”

Lee had already worked on a study about family caregiver stress while caring for people with dementia (PWD).

 For the study, her research team did home visit-based family caregiver support studies, which included interviews and counseling on communication with someone who has dementia.

Now everyone is at home, she and her team are continuing their research with online tools and weekly phone calls. In these calls, they provide COVID-19 information, emotional support, care-giving education and stress management strategies for family members who are caring for a loved one with dementia.

Caring for someone with dementia

Here are a few of the tips Lee offers for anyone now caring for a family member with dementia:

  • Communicate clearly. Instructions, such as “wash your hands more frequently,” can easily be misinterpreted or taken literally. Be mindful of how you phrase things and share information.
  • Exercise is key. Even for someone confined at home, daily movement is crucial, says Lee. Even just walking around the home can be beneficial for the caregiver and the PWD.
  • Find an activity to do together. Often, caregivers will leave the TV on. As a result, the PWD doesn’t move much and becomes weaker over time. Involve the PWD with games and other entertainment that engages the brain.
  • Give the PWD tasks. Keeping the family member with dementia engaged in tasks such as washing dishes and folding laundry will keep them moving and keep their mind engaged.
  • Ask for help. Many caregivers are reluctant to ask for help, but it’s out there. Seek out family who can pick up medications or run errands, or find a neighbor who is willing to pick up a few groceries.

Above all take care of your own mental and physical health. Caregiving is very stressful and often lonely.

Seek out one of the many stress-reduction tools available today, Lee recommends. There also are free stretching and yoga classes online, guided meditation apps and tutorials about mindfulness techniques.

Learn more about the UCI Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing ›