Covid-19 and dementia: Don’t avoid conversations with your loved ones

Apr 06, 2020
Amid the coronavirus panic, don't forget to keep conversations open with your loved ones with dementia. Source: Getty

Don’t avoid conversations about coronavirus with people who are living with dementia. That’s the advice from one expert in the field, who has encouraged people to have open and honest discussions about the crisis with their loved ones.

With new information released daily on Covid-19 and how it’s impact on the world, it can be confusing for anyone to get their head around, let alone those who suffer from dementia.

And while it’s easy to say ‘no, we’re not talking about it’, according to Tamar Krebs, the Co-CEO of Group Homes, this will only exacerbate the situation and make people with dementia feel worse. Instead, she recommends listening to your loved one’s concerns and gauging how much they want to talk about the topic, rather than bombarding them with information.

“With someone with dementia, it’s very much about being in the moment of the conversation,” she says. “If their feelings around the topic are distressing, validate them; say it’s a difficult time. Listen rather than contribute.”

However, she says it’s important not to let conversations about the crisis go on for too long, as this could lead to unnecessary stress. You should also be aware of the prolonged anxiety those with dementia may experience after the conversation.

Krebs says for some people living with dementia, feelings of anxiety and stress can be heightened over time if they can only remember that something important was discussed, but not the context of that conversation. If this happens, she says you shouldn’t ignore those feelings and instead encourage further conversation; changing topics if you feel it’s necessary.

“Someone living with dementia can get stuck in a loop and it might be difficult for them to move on from the topic of conversation,” Krebs says. “[If this occurs] again you should validate, be in the moment, and if there’s an opportunity to divert, try to do it.”

While there’s currently no link between people with dementia being at an increased risk of contracting the virus, there is still concern for people with dementia as they may forget about the need to wash their hands regularly and use hand sanitiser.

There is also the social perspective to consider, as many people living with dementia rely on regular contact with their loved ones to maintain wellbeing. That’s why Krebs suggests using technology such as Skype and FaceTime to keep in touch with family members with dementia, so they can still see your face on a regular basis.

Krebs says if your loved one is in aged care, it’s also beneficial to provide carers with family photos and cards so they can show them to your loved one and make them feel at ease during this stressful time, but to keep in mind that this will pass.

“It might take a couple of weeks or months, but we need to keep the mind frame of being positive,” she says. “This is an opportunity to reset and connect.”

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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