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8 Tips for Dementia Caregivers: Caring for Your Loved One During a Pandemic

Daughter hugging mother, both wearing pink shirts

As stay at home orders endure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, adult day centers and memory care facilities remain closed. Many family members are caring for their loved ones with dementia without the support of their usual resources and aides.

Dementia patients often do not understand the reason for these changes, creating additional stress for their loved ones who are managing their care.  

The Penn Memory Center has compiled a list of tips for caregivers to help reduce the stress of these uncertain times and ease the challenges that often come with caring for a dementia patient:

Stay calm

People with dementia are acutely aware of nonverbal cues like tone of voice and body language. They often mirror these signals, so maintaining a composed demeanor could help them stay at ease.

Expect some changes in mood and behavior, but look out for drastic ones

Stress, anxiety and change of routine can impact cognition. Most dementia patients will return to baseline once normal life resumes. However, drastic changes in mood and behavior could be signs of pain, illness or infection.

Limit news exposure

People with dementia may not remember the content of the media they consume, but they can recall how it made them feel. Avoid exposure to anxiety- or panic-inducing coverage and stick with more lighthearted TV shows.

Simplify the message

If your loved one asks what’s going on, keep your explanation short, focus on the positives and try to redirect to a topic or activity they enjoy. For example, you can say something like: “There’s an illness going around, but you’re safe with me inside the house. Can you help me remember how to play that game you like?”.

Set a daily routine 

Keep consistent wake up, eating and sleeping times each day. Try to create a schedule that will help them stay busy and engaged, which will improve mood and decrease challenging behavioral symptoms. Here you can find a sample daily routine from the Penn Memory Center.  

Focus on meaningful engagement 

Meaningful tasks and interactions can improve your loved one’s mood and sleep, decreasing challenging behavioral symptoms. Pleasant, stimulating and meaningful activities that foster emotional connection, engage the senses and trigger memories are most helpful. These can include: 

  • planting seeds or arranging flowers
  • baking
  • singing or dancing
  • listening to a book or podcast
  • watching a favorite old movie or TV show
  • doing laundry
  • starting a gratitude journal
  • trying arts and crafts and more

Have a plan for medical care

Be prepared for medical situations that might arise while caregiving. Make sure to contact your loved one’s primary care doctor to ask about their procedures for handling routine visits. You can also ask any questions you may have on what to do should you observe COVID-19 symptoms in yourself or your loved one. 

Remember to take care of yourself 

These are stressful times. Find ways to manage your anxiety that are effective for you. Some methods include: 

  • guided meditation
  • progressive muscle relaxation
  • taking a walk
  • calling a friend
  • reaching out to a Penn social worker for emotional support and more.

For more useful tips and resources, visit the Penn Memory Care Center’s COVID-19 Guide

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