With physical distancing and self-isolation in place, this can be a highly emotional, and stressful time for many of us.
For those who are caring for a loved one with dementia, these restrictions may have made your carer role more difficult. With most regular respite and day community centres currently closed to slow the spread of COVID-19, many are now caring for their loved one within their own home.
Elizabeth Baxter, VMCH Dementia Services Specialist has put together some hints and tips for carers of a person living with dementia.
Practice good hygiene
This goes without saying, for both yourself and the person with a dementia diagnosis. Try putting a ‘reminder notice’ around the house or a step-by-step guide on how to exercise effective hand hygiene. Ensure that you remind the person at regular intervals. However, always keep in mind that this may cause agitation. If so, you may need to adopt an alternative strategy for engaging in regular hand hygiene.
‘Change the goalposts’
This is in terms of expectations of yourself and your daily life. It is normal to be feeling additional stress, anxiety and concerns. It is important to reset your own expectations of your ability to continue in your caring role to the same standard that you have been prior to COVID-19, and social distancing restrictions.
Instead of cooking elaborate meals, aim for simple and nutritious meal ideas. If you lose your temper, allow yourself some kindness in recognising your feelings of stress or overwhelm. Also, try to take some time away for yourself whenever you have the opportunity to.
Use technology-based support
Technology is a great way to maintain involvement in meaningful activities. There are so many innovative and wonderful apps available, including ‘A Better Visit’ which has been developed by Dementia Australia (only on Apple devices only).
Ensure you utilise various video chat programs such as Skype/WhatsApp/Messenger to connect with family and friends, especially with those you may usually see regularly.
YouTube and Spotify can also offer lots of opportunities for musical engagement and reminiscing – simply type in a favourite song and you can sing and dance along.
There are also online support groups, which can provide some guidance, ideas and a listening ear.
Try using some creative activities to maintain connection and interest with your loved ones. Walks, singing songs, painting, gardening, games, dancing and sensory activities are a great place to start. Also, keep an eye out on social media, there are often some very innovative ideas that are being thought of every day.
Limit your exposure of media coverage
Limiting the amount of information that you view regarding the global situation. People with cognitive impairment may process this information as separate catastrophic global events which could exacerbate anxiety or worry.
Validate the person’s anxiety
Provide reassurance. The closest family member is often a person of safety, reassurance and familiarity for the person with a diagnosis, so please be mindful to use extra patience in relieving anxieties. Try to use distraction or redirection if feelings of heightened stress arise from media coverage or a lack of routine. Games, internet-based activities or going for a walk are good ways to break the cycle if persistent thoughts are hard to disconnect from.
Be mindful of your own stress
Your stress levels and wellbeing are also important. Your energy is felt by those around you and it’s important to look after your own mental health.
Access accurate information
It’s important that you’re aware of your local restrictions as these do differ for each state. You can view current Victorian restrictions and local updates via https://www2.health.vic.gov.au/
Home-based activity ideas
- Look through family photos
- Talk about events or holidays
- Use the internet to look up destinations visited to relive positive experiences.
- Put on music to sing or dance to
- Use music that evokes positive responses and can stimulate specific feelings (i.e. calming music for relaxation, upbeat music for movement and dancing)
- Choose themed songs for promoting conversation.
- Going for walks
- Looking for chalk drawings/ teddy bears in the windows of houses.
- Cooking or manageable tasks related to cooking
- ‘Sorting’ of matched coloured items (e.g. pegs, clothing)
- Household tasks (e.g. folding washing, organising drawers, sweeping or raking leaves, watering plants) Skype with family or friends
- Plan future holidays or activities
- Online social groups
- Touching tools
- Feeling fabric, rubbing different items between hands/ fingers i.e. wool
- Smelling flowers or spices.
Please note, carers who are in receipt of the Carer Payment will receive a one-off payment of $750, as will those people receiving the Disability Support Pension or the Aged Pension.
External online resources:
Australian Psychological Society (APS): Tips for coping with coronavirus anxiety
Beyond Blue: Looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak
Dr Russ Harris, physician and psychotherapist: How to respond effectively to the coronavirus (using the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy)
WHO: Mental health and psychosocial considerations during COVID-19 outbreak
Ted article: “I’m incredibly anxious about coronavirus”