There probably isn’t a person on this planet whose life hasn’t been severely impacted by the startling reality of COVID-19 and the anxiety that accompanies it. Our thoughts do not often stray far from health and financial concerns, as well as the struggle to procure items like basic foods, toilet paper, sanitizer, and the other necessities required to navigate this trying period of our lives.
Though many seniors and patients affected by Alzheimer’s disease rely on us as caretakers to help them with these basic needs, elevated anxiety is still a concern — and stress can lead to a lowered immune response and many other health issues.
For those who have a full comprehension of the dangers of this disease, COVID-19 anxiety can take a brutal toll. They may have a friend or relative who has succumbed to the illness, further increasing their anxiety. Even those who do not understand the changes going on around them can sense the fears and tension in their caretakers and respond in kind.
As a caretaker, you can be a pillar of strength for your patient or loved one, helping them navigate this period of their lives and keep it as calm and stress-free as possible. Here are just a few ideas to get you started.
Create a calming environment
Try to limit distracting or loud noises that might cause these individuals additional stress. Put on soft, soothing music, and use pleasant lighting. Make the room temperature comfortable, reducing drafts or anything that might cause discomfort. Provide extra cushions and blankets to seating areas to emphasize a feeling of warmth and security.
Use a soft tone of voice
No matter how difficult a patient or loved one may be, it’s important to not escalate the situation by raising your voice or talking down to them. Use a firm but pleasant voice when emphasizing the importance of certain necessary tasks such as handwashing.
Adopt new routines
Adapting to a new way of life can be especially challenging for seniors and those affected by dementia. Routine is often calming to these individuals and disruption of the normal things they may enjoy, such as going out to eat, attending religious services, and shopping for groceries, may be particularly stressful. Develop new routines that embrace the realities of a post-COVID-19 world. Expect a certain amount of resistance to change and be as patient as possible. In time, they will also learn to adjust to “the new normal.”
Plan fun, engaging activities
Being stuck inside all the time is hard for anyone, and many areas are asking seniors and vulnerable individuals to shelter in place. Consider games that may have been popular in their youth to remind them of happier times or engage them in a fun art activity like scrapbooking or painting.
Address loneliness and a growing sense of isolation
COVID-19 has been especially devastating to assisted living facilities and nursing homes, in which the virus has spread rapidly among residents and caregivers alike. Because of high infection rates and compromised immune systems in seniors, facilities around the country have closed their doors to all visitors to prevent the spread of the disease. While this helps lower infection rates, it can lead to a growing sense of desolation when loved ones no longer come visit them. You can help ease loneliness and isolation by using Zoom, Facetime, and similar applications to connect residents with their families and other loved ones.
Ensure your patient or loved one is eating well and getting exercise
In unusual times, it’s easy to eat convenient foods and take it easy. But good health practices are essential for giving your loved one or patient the best fighting chance, as well as improving their outlook and reducing stress. Prepare easy, nutritious meals in advance and take them out for a short stroll, if possible. Put on an exercise tape geared to seniors and get them to exercise along with you.
Limit time spent watching the news
This is good advice for anyone wishing to lower their anxiety levels, as the news seems to be filled with one disheartening story after another. Change the station to an entertaining television series or documentary that your patient or loved one is sure to enjoy.
If possible, arrange a little time outside
Nature is healing and restorative, and it inspires peace and wonder. While your patient or loved one may not live in the mountains or near the beach, bird-watching or spending time in the garden can lift their spirits. Taking time to smell the roses can be just what the doctor ordered.
Don’t underestimate the power of music
Studies have shown that music can improve memory function and mood, as well as access areas of the brain that have not been affected in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Put on some music from their youth and encourage them to sing along.
Sometimes it’s nice just to have someone to talk to — someone who really listens. Open your heart and be a sounding board without interruption or judgment. Allow your patient or loved one to express their fears or concerns without placating them. Let them tell their story. The gift of your empathy and understanding may be the thing that helps them most of all.