No two dementia journeys are the same and the disease progresses differently from person to person. But one thing has become clear during the COVID-19 pandemic; it’s getting worse at a faster pace. There are a few reasons that may explain why dementia caregivers feel as though their loved one’s decline has suddenly accelerated.
We’re all feeling the effects of prolonged isolation, but this can be especially difficult for a person living with dementia. Without the vital resources of services like home health support, adult day care centers, socialization with peers, opportunities to go on outings or travel, and a general lack of routine and cognitive stimulation throughout the day, a person with dementia may experience an accelerated decline and a distinct increase in loneliness that can be overwhelming.
Lack of Exercise/Movement
Daily movement including walks and gentle exercise or light recreation have likely decreased or stopped altogether. As the old saying goes, “use it or lose it.” Loss of muscle tone, balance, and stability, as well as decreased oxygen to the brain typically enjoyed during physical activities may have the unintended effect of cognitive decline and increased fall risk.
Access to or Decrease in Care
Fear of the virus for this vulnerable population has resulted in many missed doctor’s appointments and a decision to forgo regular care visits and support groups. If a person with dementia is living alone, they may also be unable to navigate newer interactive services such as telehealth or virtual medicine which have become popular during the pandemic, leaving them at a much higher risk for decline without proper medical and clinical intervention.
As dementia progresses, one’s ability to communicate becomes compromised. They may increasingly need to rely on visual or verbal cues from another person. But with everyone wearing masks, we’re seeing an unmistakable breakdown in communication. Dementia expert Teepa Snow explains, “Cueing removes the power dynamic. if I take a drink, it cues you to take a drink without saying anything. Now we have to use props because of masks.” Masks also hide facial expressions, and can make recognizing caregivers and loved ones difficult. If your loved one loses the ability to communicate, you may miss the signs that they need additional assistance.
These are just a few of the reasons behind worsening dementia during the pandemic, but the question remains – what can a family caregiver do when faced with this growing problem? One answer is utilizing the resources available through a full-time memory care community such as Autumn Leaves. Round the clock expert dementia care and nursing oversight, daily activities designed to engage and stimulate, socialization with peers 7 days a week, and a community built specifically with memory care in mind, where those living with dementia can thrive with dignity and purpose.