OTTUMWA — The virus that causes COVID-19 is challenging everyone. But when a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s doesn’t remember why things have changed, it’s an additional burden.
Karla Hinton, a full-time caregiver and her 83-year-old mother Bernice, who has dementia, are among many who have had to make adjustments. Her mother loves to go to church, visit family and go to Walmart, but can no longer do that.
They had to adjust by listening to sermons online, deal with not dining at restaurants and stay at home.
Unlike those without dementia or Alzheimer’s who understand why they can’t attend restaurants, large gatherings or movie theaters, Bernice forgets each day. And each time Hinton has to come up with an excuse as to why they can’t do those activities.
“I’d say, ‘Well it’s awful cold out there today’ … I’ll go to the door and say, ‘It’s cold out there isn’t it?’ That’s sometimes my excuse,” Hinton said. “When it gets warmer, I’ll have to think of something else. You gotta think one step ahead.”
During these times of isolation, Bernice likes to tell stories to her grandchildren of what she remembered from World War II and how she was raised.
“When she’s really feeling the blues, she’ll tell us stories and it tends to make her feel better, too,” Hinton said. “Pictures are a huge help, especially older pictures.”
Staying at home also means Hinton must keep her mother occupied with numerous activities. Bernice plays with her grandchildren, card games and helps clean the house. It has seemed to work well, as Hinton said that’s part of their new routine, along with Bible reading. They will also go for car rides “when the weather isn’t too cloudy.”
Cleaning the house, Hinton said, is a great way for her to remind her mother to wash her hands and the importance of cleanliness.
Hinton and Lauren Livingston, communications director for the Alzheimer’s Association of the Iowa Chapter, said it is pertinent for caregivers and patients to continue sanitation and maintain cleanliness as a whole to reduce risk.
“They should adhere to all CDC guidelines,” Livingston said, “like not touching their eyes, coughing and sneezing into their elbows or using a tissue. They can also put up signs on the bathroom mirrors reminding people with dementia and Alzheimer’s to wash their hands with soap for 20 seconds.”
Hinton advises caregivers to use bleach in their homes and put cleaning supplies in a location out of sight from their loved ones. Taking cleanliness precautions is also part of “thinking one step ahead, ” something that should not be overlooked.
“You got to think ahead of everybody else,” she said. “You got to keep yourself healthy, they are prone, they have no immune system. So folks [who] are contaminated with this virus — it is going to really affect them dramatically because their immune system is already altered. Do protect yourself, as well, because you’re the one taking care of them and folks forget about that. If something happens to you, who’s going to be the one taking care of them?”
Livingston and Hinton said caregivers should also not forget to find ways to deal with stress.
“If they are stressed or overwhelmed and deal with struggles they should reach out to the Alzheimer’s helpline for support by calling 800-272-3900,” Livingston said. “We are all struggling and want them to know we are still there for them.”
Hinton recommends relying on friends and taking bathroom breaks. She alleviates stress by going outside, working on a puzzle and reaching out to her friends, family, church and a support group.
“God is a good release for me,” she said. “Talk to someone, but they do need to have an outlet,” she said. “They do need to have someone to come in and relieve them. You need to go for a car ride yourself and relax or listen to music, or whatever it is that helps them with the stress level — they do that. They have to have that outlet.”
While some businesses remain closed and as routines change daily, Hinton stressed that caregivers and those impacted by the virus, whether that is physically, mentally or emotionally, should not lose optimism and faith.
“There is always hope,” she said. “My grandmother always said ‘that the sun comes up, there’s always hope in the day.’”