A person living with dementia is already dealing with feelings of isolation. For one-on-one dementia caregivers, it can feel like this pandemic has dealt you a double-blow since you are now likely in isolation together. A person with dementia cannot process things like CDC guidance, wearing a mask, hand washing regimens, and social distancing. We spoke with Katie Holland, Director of Respite Care Ministries in Dothan, AL, a dementia care and support organization out of First United Methodist Church, to get a few tips and resources to help caregivers and their loved ones with dementia cope with the added stresses of the pandemic.
MAKE VISUAL CONNECTIONS – Katie and her volunteers are using online meeting platforms with video chat to help seniors with dementia ‘see’ other people and participate in conversations to the extent possible. By using a video chat system, such as ZOOM or FaceTime, you’ll be as close as possible to modeling in-person interaction when separation is the best way to keep a vulnerable person safe. Another way to make a visual connection is to invite close-by family members to enjoy just seeing their loved one through a window. Have them bring bubbles to blow right outside the window.
PARTICIPATE IN NEUROBICS – Neurobics was coined in the 1990s to describe exercises for the brain. Katie explains that many people with dementia can still make simple word connections. Below are three word games you can try.
Pairs – Start the conversation by saying a simple word with a common pairing and let your loved one come up with the other half of the pair: Salt and Pepper. Peanut Butter and Jelly. Spaghetti and Meatballs, etc.
Fill In The Blank – Start the conversation using a common phrase and encourage your loved on fill in the rest: Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Easy come, easy go, etc.
Categories – Start the conversation by coming up with a list together of related items, then pick something out of the answers and find more related items to move a conversation along. For example: Let’s name several kinds of trees (apple, lime, banana). Ok, we said apple, so what are some things we can make with apples (apple pie, apple dumplings, apple cobbler). We said apple pie, so can we name some other kinds of pies? And so forth.
DO BREATHING EXERCISES – Work on taking deep breaths together. Deep breathing helps lower cortisol levels, which helps you both to relax and reduces stress.
CHANGE THE SCENERY – A member of Katie’s volunteer team discovered that people watching can be very entertaining for people with dementia. Park your car in a cool, safe spot near a fast food restaurant and observe the people going in and out. Another way to safely change scenery is by simply taking a walk somewhere, even walking in the yard or up and down the street.
CREATE A HAPPY ENVIRONMENT – Find things to do together that bring joy. Try watching old TV shows that make you laugh, like The Andy Griffith Show. Nature lovers may enjoy the National Geographic channel together. Or try pulling out travel pictures, or books of things that bring joy, like animals and children. Discuss things that bring joy. Create an environment that brings good feelings and a happy atmosphere.
BE IN THE MOMENT – The past is difficult for the person with dementia to remember, and talking about the future can be confusing. People with dementia live very much in the present. Just enjoy being in the moment together. Being in the moment can help reduce frustration for both the caregiver and their loved one.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FREE CAREGIVER RESOURCES – Katie has discovered a number of FREE resources for caregivers of a loved one with dementia that you can tap into. Some have FREE e-newsletters you can sign up for, and others post their free resources right on the website. Here are just a few of the sites:
https://teepasnow.com/ – Teepa Snow is well known in the dementia and caregiving circle. Here you can watch some of her valuable training videos for free, as well as other up-to-date conversations, articles and videos.
https://www.cognitivedynamics.org/ – This website promotes the use of art, music, poetry and more to unlock the potential of a person with dementia.
https://alzca.org/ – The Alzheimer’s of Central Alabama website. Explore the free resources on the ‘education’ tab.
https://www.timeslips.org/ – Explore the Creativity Center on the >Resources page of this website.
https://www.alz.org/ – Alzheimer’s Association website. Connect with local resources, explore COVID-19 suggestions, learn about financial & legal planning, and more.
If you would like to know more about Respite Care Ministry at Dothan First UMC, or would like to join their free online support group, you can email Katie Holland at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their website at fumcdothan.org/respite-care/.