As the coronavirus advances, it is taking a particularly harsh toll on the many who are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the most common type of dementia, in which the mental ability of person gradually declines and reaches a stage where it becomes difficult for them to lead a normal life. With the disease progressing gradually, patients find themselves more and more dependent on their immediate family members for survival.
For caregivers, the Coronavirus is “really a double whammy” said Dr. N S Raju, Managing Trustee of Age Care Foundation. “You’re worrying about your own health and that of your family member.” Dementia in itself is not going to pose a greater risk to those who suffer from the condition during the COVID-19 pandemic, but behaviours associated with the disease may make it a special challenge for the caregivers. Dementia patients are typically very sensitive to changes in routine and often require a great deal of hands-on care, both factors that are hard to manage now. Family members who usually rely on day care programs or visiting caregivers may be finding themselves with full-time responsibilities, while others whose loved ones are in facilities are unable to visit them now.
DR. K. Venkateswarlu, Emeritus Professor of Neurology, Andhra Medical College & President of Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India (ADRSI), Visakhapatnam Chapter said, elderly with dementia and other chronic conditions are particularly more vulnerable to complications from coronavirus infection, which is a matter of great concern. With limited access to information, they may not register safeguard procedures like usages of masks, sanitizers and social distancing which makes them vulnerable to infection. In view of the special needs of dementia patients, collaborative approach from mental health professional, social workers, nursing home administrators and volunteers are needed to protect from the infection.
Among the greatest challenges is how to minimize disruption in care that is intensely personal. “Care for dementia patients is ‘caring touch,’ said Dr. Raju. Mr. Jayant Rao, who is 72 and lives Balaji Bay Mount at Rishikonda, spends each day focused on maintaining his wife’s routine since 2013 after being diagnosed of Alzheimer at the age of 59. Intent on reducing his wife’s risk of getting infected, he has temporarily let her evening caregiver go. He’s conflicted about reducing risk in a situation where touch is essential. His wife can’t fall asleep unless he is beside her. “She needs that comfort,” he said.
Dr. Raju recommends that caregivers take measures to avoid their own exposures by having provisions delivered, disinfecting surfaces and employing proper hand-washing techniques. Stating further Dr. Raju said the priority for caregivers should be to keep themselves healthy and act like emergency medical workers, “because if they get sick, two people are going to be in trouble.” He urges caregivers to get out, take walks by themselves and set up a pool of people who might be able to come in and give them breaks, perhaps while the patient is taking a nap. He acknowledges that this can introduce a risk of exposure, but says the downsides can be significant. Going it alone means “you’re putting yourself at risk of burning out and in danger of getting exhausted,” he said.