Coronavirus Prevention Recommendations for Caregivers of Dementia Patients

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds as one of the preventative measures for COVID-19. While it is an easy task for the general public, it may not be so for someone who has dementia.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared COVID-19 a pandemic, with close to 120,000 affected worldwide. As these numbers continue to rise, preventative measures should be taken seriously by everyone at this point (if they haven’t already done so), and extra precaution by older adults who are more susceptible to the illness.

According to Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the CDC, starting at age 60, there is an increasing risk of COVID-19. She emphasized that the risk of serious illness — and death — increases with individuals older than the age of 80. Serious underlying health conditions are likely to have bad outcomes as well, such as heart or lung disease, or diabetes. 

To aid in the prevention of COVID-19 among those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, the role of the caregiver is important. Eighty-three percent of the help provided to older adults in the United States comes from family members, friends or other unpaid caregivers, and nearly half of all caregivers who provide help to older adults do so for someone living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

“For starters, be sure not to spread unnecessary alarm about coronavirus to the person you care for,” said Allison B. Reiss, M.D., AFA Medical, Scientific & Memory Screening Advisory Board Member, Head of the Inflammation Laboratory at NYU Winthrop Hospital Research Institute and Associate Professor of Medicine at NYU Long Island School of Medicine. “The best way to prevent illness is simply to avoid being exposed to the virus, according to the CDC. The next best thing is to encourage everyday preventative measures to avoid the spread of respiratory disease,”

Recommendations from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America:

Encourage more frequent and/or longer hand washing.  It may be difficult to for a dementia patient to wash their hands for 20 seconds. Caregivers may be able to encourage more frequent and/or longer hand washing by singing two choruses of “Happy Birthday.”

Use a soothing tone to encourage washing and understand that you may need to explain what to do slowly and step by step. Some people with dementia are no longer able to sequence (i.e., they can’t anticipate what step is coming next.). You may want to say, “First, let’s wet our hands under the water.” When that is done, “Then we will use the soap dispenser to squeeze out some soap into your hands.” Then, “Rub your hands together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands…. Lather between your fingers…. Lather under your nails.”

Consider using a fragranced soap such as lavender to improve the sensory experience for your person. 

Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. Make supplies easy to access, such as tissues, wipes and hand sanitizers, near the locations where your person spends most of their time. Use hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes for fast fixes around the home.

Have activities on-hand at home. If adult day care and respite programs schedules are postponed due to an outbreak or the person you are caring for isn’t feeling well enough to attend (the current recommendation is to stay home if you feel sick), have activities on hand to help pass the time—word puzzles and games, picture albums, music to listen to, special movies to watch, and small tasks to engage in such as folding towels or putting socks together.

Stay hydrated. Caregivers should make sure their person is drinking enough liquids as they may already have a weakened immune system.

For current updates on the virus, go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

References

Coronavirus Prevention Tips for Alzheimer’s Family Caregivers from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA)

https://alzfdn.org/coronavirus-prevention-tips-alzheimers-family-caregivers-alzheimers-foundation-america-afa/

Coronavirus situation reports

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports/

Facts and Figures

https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/facts-figures