Alzheimer’s Caregivers and the Challenges of COVID-19 Prevention
Learn how to create a safe, healthy environment for yourself and your care-recipients during the COVID-19 pandemic
By Hamid R. Sagha, M.D. | March 31, 2020
Alzheimer’s caregivers are on the frontlines every day in supporting the quality of life of care-recipients. However, they face additional challenges in preventing them or their care-recipients from exposure to COVID-19 (coronavirus disease – 2019).
I want to provide you with information you can use to better take care of yourself and your care-recipient. Moreover, I want to support you and lessen your stress during this global pandemic. Therefore, if you are among the millions caring for those with Alzheimer’s and similar dementias, this message is for you.
Alzheimer’s caregivers and COVID-19
Your care-recipient is in a high-risk situation. Indeed, most persons living with Alzheimer’s are over the age of 65 (one risk factor). Likewise, most persons over the age of 65 have one or more underlying health problems (the other risk factor). However, there is much you can do to reduce the risk of COVID-19 for yourself and your care-recipient.
I highly recommend the CDC website as an excellent source of reliable information concerning the coronavirus. Accordingly, I want to summarize the information I feel is the most relevant to you as an Alzheimer’s caregiver.
Pay attention to your self-care
As a caregiver, your care-recipient and others are depending on you. Here are some positive things you can do to safeguard your health.
- Frequent handwashing (watch the CDC video)
- Take medications as prescribed
- Maintain a regular exercise program
- Take time to do yoga, meditation, or read a book
- Stay hydrated—Drink plenty of water
- Limit access to COVID-19 news, or at least balance it with positive input
- Make sure you get enough sleep
- Find ways to focus on the positive aspects of your life
Whenever you leave home, always wash your hands upon return. In fact, take a hand sanitizer with you when you go out. Use it whenever you need to wash your hands but don’t have access to water. By the same token, you also need to wash your hands frequently during the day. Cleanse your hands for at least 20 seconds (sing Happy Birthday twice). If you use hand sanitizer often, I recommend using hand lotion to prevent your skin from drying and cracking.
Clean surfaces in the place you live and work
The virus primarily spreads from person-to-person. However, respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes can survive for different times on various surfaces. Thus, it is essential to clean the surfaces you or your care recipient may frequently touch. The following guidelines may prove helpful.
- Clean (disinfect) the surfaces you touch daily
- Change out your hand and kitchen towels daily
- Cleaning should include doorknobs, sink handles, refrigerator and oven doors, computer keyboards, steering wheels, cell phones, countertops, and other high-use surfaces
- Replace your kitchen sponge frequently, or better yet, use a brush you can put in the dishwasher
- Open windows (if possible) to increase ventilation when using disinfectant cleaners
- Do not share dishes and utensils
Manage Underlying Chronic Conditions
Chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and COPD, can stress the immune system. Keep managing any health condition you may have to keep it from worsening. Ask providers to call in refill orders and see if the pharmacy offers a delivery service – or has a drive-through pickup window. Do this for the medications that both you and your care-recipient take.
Monitor for symptoms
Obviously, it’s essential to observe yourself and your care-recipient for symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat). Also, take your temperature occasionally and contact medical professionals if symptoms persist.
Practice physical distancing
We know the vital role that family and community play in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s dementia. However, we face the rapid spread of a coronavirus for which there is no preventive vaccine or prescribed course of treatment. Subsequently, physical distancing (often referred to as social distancing) remains our primary tool in stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Therefore, you need to remove yourself and your care-recipient from close contact with groups of people, which is admittedly a challenging step. Here are some thoughts:
- If you have errands and activities outside the home, see if it is possible to take care of things at a distance through telecommuting (phone and video call contact, etc.).
- Examine patterns of social interactions for you and your care-recipient.
- If you attend worship services, see if your place of worship offers streaming services. Otherwise, consider using the regular time of attendance as a time of home worship (reading scripture, prayer, etc.).
- If you typically take your care-recipient shopping, you need to reconsider this activity as long as COVID-19 remains a threat. If you must, perhaps use smaller shops at off-hours, and avoid crowded places.
- Call friends, family, or neighbors to see if they can pick up items you might need at the store.
- Think about outings that present minimal risks. For example, going to a large park with wide-open spaces or taking walks through your neighborhood.
- Stop going out to restaurants for now. Instead, order take out or see if they can deliver curbside.
The most difficult guidelines may be those involving family visits, whether for you or your care-recipient. Unfortunately, the spread of COVID-19 continues, and as of this writing, we have not reached the peak number of new cases. As such, we need to consider the following concerning family visits.
- Keep them small – one or two people at a time
- Ask everyone who comes to follow the same safety rules you are (e.g., washing hands)
- Limit or postpone visits with grandchildren
The challenges ahead for Alzheimer’s caregivers
The best protection for you and your care-recipient is for both of you to avoid catching COVID-19. Regardless of anything else said, you need to do your best to stay healthy. You cannot control the worldwide scale of the COVID-19 pandemic, but you can determine your actions.
Beyond the above summary, you need to listen to public health experts, act on recommended guidelines, and plan wisely. Doing so will support your efforts to keep you and your care-recipient healthy. Moreover, you will be doing your part to prevent the spread of the virus among family, friends, and your community.