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Pandemic Prep Critical for Caregivers of People with Alzheimer’s

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More than 430,000 Tennesseeans are family caregivers for someone with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. But are they prepared for dealing with their loved one during the pandemic? (Adobe Stock)
More than 430,000 Tennesseeans are family caregivers for someone with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. But are they prepared for dealing with their loved one during the pandemic? (Adobe Stock)
March 30, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- People with Alzheimer's and their caregivers face a unique set of challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. In Tennessee, more than 120,000 people age 65 or older are affected by Alzheimer's.

While dementia itself doesn't increase risk for COVID-19 illness, experts say associated behaviors and health conditions that accompany memory loss might. Kelsey Williams, program manager at the Alzheimer's Association in Tennessee, said increased confusion is often a key indicator that a person living with Alzheimer's isn't feeling well.

"People with dementia are often under-diagnosed and under-treated for viruses like influenza and other conditions because they can't communicate verbally that something might be wrong," Williams said.

She added caregivers can place signs in bathrooms and kitchens as extra reminders to wash hands with soap for 20 seconds, and even demonstrate proper hand-washing. And families who need guidance can call the Alzheimer's Association's 24/7 COVID-19 helpline at 800-272-3900.

Williams pointed out that as the coronavirus outbreak unfolds, families should expect less help from community resources, and should work now to come up with an emergency plan.

"Make alternative care management plans if that primary caregiver should become sick," she said.

She noted it's also important for home caregivers to maintain a routine and stock up on groceries and medications to reduce outside trips.

"People with dementia oftentimes look to others for cues as to how to respond to their environment," Williams said. "But for caregivers, it's particularly important to try to remain as calm as possible when interacting with their loved ones with dementia."

In response to the pandemic, Medicare has temporarily expanded its coverage of telehealth services. Williams said for Alzheimer's patients with mild symptoms, or to maintain routine check-ups, communicating with healthcare providers via phone or teleconference is a safer bet than in-person doctor visits.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - TN