As a dementia care partner, the global pandemic has created a new set of concerns and stressors. Referencing the latest research may help guide you as you navigate the new care landscape. Alzheimer’s Disease International1has offered clear and concise guidance on day-to-day approaches in this graphic:
These practical tips are helpful, and yet as we continue to practice Safer-at-Home, care partners may be finding their mental health at risk. ADI suggests that we need not only physical protection but also mental and psychosocial. In an overview of China’s efforts in addressing COVID-19’s impact on dementia care, the need for psychological first aid is stated2. Being the first nation to get to a zero rate of new cases, their efforts in dementia care are noteworthy for those of us still in rising numbers.
Although COVID-19 is not necessarily impacting people with dementia cognitively, if testing negative, it’s impact emotionally and behaviorally is significant. The disruption of routine, the increased media focus are impacting both care partners’ psychological health3. Care partners are reporting sleep disruption and increased anxiety. The Chinese research found that persons with dementia often have an irrational analysis of the epidemic. Anecdotally, caregivers report that they have used the media to try to convince their loved one of a more rational analysis. This strategy is not working. Researchers strongly advise limiting media feedback as one step in managing irrational behaviors and responses.
Key strategies promoted in research include accessing additional mental and psychosocial mental health from dementia care professionals, mental health resources and community volunteers.2 This can be done via internet or telephone. Whether consulting your insurer, your local Alzheimer’s Association, ADI or numerous on-line webinars and virtual groups—this is the time to increase time spent on mental health. Consider calling your doctor or memory disorders clinic and asking for telehealth options. Accessing family or professional help to have respite might be a consideration as long as COVID-19 screening precautions are taken.
In-home resources suggested to mitigate anxiety include relaxation and mindfulness instruction. Dr. Wang listed partaking of free online courses in subjects like music, arts, cooking as positive interventions to help dementia care partners enhance their daily routine while isolated.2
The second stream of current COVID-19 research relates to our nutritional approach. Published in Brain Behavior and Immunity, Western Diet and its high fat, high sugar components is discussed because obesity has been shown to be a risk factor. The promising news is that consuming healthy foods has a rapid anti-inflammatory effect, even in the presence of obesity pathology.The researchers suggest that we “refrain from eating foods high in saturated fats and sugar and instead consume high amounts of fiber, whole grains, unsaturated fats, and antioxidants to boost our immune function.”4
For many of us the need for emotional and psychosocial support during this time of isolation is supplanted with an increase in fats and sugar. Perhaps it would work best to access increasing our mental health support first, and then shifting our dietary focus.
The bottom line for dementia caregivers in the age of COVID-19 is that our emotional health is as vital as our physical health. Get online, pick up your phone, access support.
1Alzheimer’s Disease International ADI offers advice and support during COVID-19. March 17, 2020. https://www.alz.co.uk/news/adi-offers-advice-and-support-during-covid-19
2Wang, H., Li, T., Barbarino, P., Gauthier, S., Brodaty, H., et al., 2020. Dementia Care During Covid, Lancet, 395(10231): 1190-1191.
4 Butler, M. J.& Barrietos, R. M. 2020. The impact of nutrition on COVID-19 susceptibility and long-term consequences, Brain Behavior & Immunity, April 18, doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2020.04.040 [Epub ahead of print].