COVID-19 – What dementia caregivers need to know
Published on: April 7, 2020
by Alzheimer’s Association:
Most likely, dementia does not increase risk for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus, just like dementia does not increase risk for flu. However, dementia-related behaviors, increased age and common health conditions that often accompany dementia may increase risk.
For example, people with Alzheimer’s disease and all other dementia may forget to wash their hands or take other recommended precautions to prevent illness. In addition, diseases like COVID-19 and the flu may worsen cognitive impairment due to dementia.
Tips for dementia caregivers at home
Caregivers of individuals living with Alzheimer’s and all other dementia should follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and consider the following tips:
- For people living with dementia, increased confusion is often the first symptom of any illness. If a person living with dementia shows rapidly increased confusion, contact your health care provider for advice. Unless the person is having difficulty breathing or a very high fever, it is recommended that you call your health care provider instead of going directly to an emergency room. Your doctor may be able to treat the person without a visit to the hospital.
- People living with dementia may need extra and/or written reminders and support to remember important hygienic practices from one day to the next.
- Consider placing signs in the bathroom and elsewhere to remind people with dementia to wash their hands with soap for 20 seconds.
- Demonstrate thorough hand-washing.
- Alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be a quick alternative to hand-washing if the person with dementia cannot get to a sink or wash his/her hands easily.
- Ask your pharmacist or doctor about filling prescriptions for a greater number of days to reduce trips to the pharmacy.
- Think ahead and make alternative plans for the person with dementia should adult day care, respite, etc. be modified or cancelled in response to COVID-19.
- Think ahead and make alternative plans for care management if the primary caregiver should become sick.
Tips for caregivers of individuals in assisted living
The CDC has provided guidance on infection control and prevention of COVID-19 in nursing homes. This guidance is for the health and safety of residents. Precautions may vary based on local situations.
- Check with the facility regarding their procedures for managing COVID-19 risk. Ensure they have your emergency contact information and the information of another family member or friend as a backup.
- Do not visit your family member if you have any signs or symptoms of illness.
- Depending on the situation in your local area, facilities may limit or not allow visitors. This is to protect the residents but it can be difficult if you are unable to see your family member.
- If visitation is not allowed, ask the facility how you can have contact with your family member. Options include telephone calls, video chats or even emails to check in.
- If your family member is unable to engage in calls or video chats, ask the facility how you can keep in touch with facility staff in order to get updates.
Tips for supporting persons living with dementia receiving home-based services
If you are receiving or plan to receive services from a paid health care professional in your home:
- Ensure that a temperature check has been conducted before they enter the home. Anyone with a temperature over 100.4° F should be excluded from providing care.
- Ask the staff person if they have been exposed to anyone who has tested positive and if so, do not allow them into your home.
- Contact the agency and ask them to explain their protocols to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
- Ensure that the staff member washes their hands upon arrival and regularly throughout their time in the home.
- Ask the staff member to wear a mask.
- Know that bringing anyone into your home increases the risk of spreading COVID-19 even if CDC guidance is followed.
Pay attention to flu or pneumonia-like symptoms in yourself and others and report them to a medical professional immediately.
Follow current guidance and instruction from the CDC regarding COVID-19. Tips to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy include:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick; work from home.
- If you or the person you are caring for have regular doctor’s appointments to manage dementia or other health conditions, call your health care provider to inquire about a telehealth appointment.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.