It’s been proven that a lack of socialization can have negative effects on the brain, but the effects can be worse for those struggling with memory loss. Being forced into isolation due to COVID-19 has been extremely hard for those suffering from dementia and caretakers are noticing a fast decline in patients’ health.
Following the one year anniversary of the first COVID-19 lockdown fast, we’re forced to think about how long we’ve been isolated from each other.
Long-term care and retirement homes have closed their doors to the public since the beginning of the pandemic for the safety of the residents who are considered the most at risk. Some allowed for short, scheduled, socially-distanced appointments during the summer months, but still many residences haven’t seen their entire families in almost a year.
Dementia is an umbrella term for multiple medical conditions that involve memory. Alzheimer’s accounts for around 60 to 80 per cent of all dementia cases. This disease is caused by abnormal brain changes which trigger a decline in a person’s thinking, memory and cognitive skills.
Sarah Brown is a 21-year-old caretaker at The Avalon in Shelburne, Ont. She said that lockdown has been hard on all residents, but it has been especially difficult for those with dementia. Residents are told what is going on with the pandemic and they’re understanding, but unfortunately not long later they’re confused once again and get frustrated.
“They forget so quickly it is hard for them to grasp why they can’t do the things that are normally a big part of their routine,” Brown said. “It’s hard to watch them get upset. They just want to do things they can’t and don’t understand why. They get really lonely but we try our best to make them comfortable.”
Loneliness is not beneficial to our health. Those not dealing with dementia are 50 per cent more likely to develop a form of the memory loss disease because of isolation. And people with pre-diagnosed cases are likely to decline faster due to the lack of social stimulation.
In a normal year, dementia patients heavily rely on the help of their families and caretakers. But the pandemic has only worsened their vulnerability.
Most people living with dementia already have a limited social life due to their condition; often only interacting with caregivers, family and others in the home. But having a solid, repetitive routine when dealing with dementia is best. So when this routine is broken, they understand why they can’t do certain things anymore.
Because of this, caretakers have noticed more confusion and agitation with patients with dementia and noticed a sharp decline in many because of the isolation.
Jennifer McCallum is a part of the Alzheimer’s Society in Dufferin County and she said that even though we cannot physically be there for our loved ones in homes, there are still many different things that we can do for them.
“Reading them stories is great,” said McCallum. “Setting them up with music, creating a playlist on an iPod would be great. Giving them something that’s a part of their history and stimulates them.”
She also suggests sending mail and cards to your family members in a home. Sending something weekly adds consistency to their lives and makes them feel special.
“Older adults love to read cards. It keeps people feeling like someone is looking out for them. They may not retain who wrote the card but in the moment it is really helpful,” said McCallum.
The Alzheimers Society also supplies families with a booklet titled, All About Me, through their website. Families can fill it out for free to help give caregivers more knowledge about their family members living with dementia. From hobbies that the person enjoys to their medical history, it includes information that a person may not remember about themselves.
McCallum said, “Homes are doing well at providing as much social stimulation as they can right now. And all we can do is try our best to make sure they’re safe and cared for. Everyones being affected.”