Guest blog post from Claire Wentz
Dementia comes in many forms, not just Alzheimer’s disease. Taking care of someone with dementia is a full-time job, especially now, as we are still learning how to navigate a world with COVID-19. Today’s Fading Memories blog post offers information for caregivers on how to manage their loved one’s condition throughout the pandemic.
If you are a first-time caregiver to a loved one with dementia, your first goal is to understand what this might mean. There are several types of dementia, including, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, Mixed dementia, Parkinson’s disease, vascular dementia, and posterior cortical atrophy. Regardless of the cause, many dementia patients experience similar symptoms. These include an inability to recall information, either long-term or short-term, sudden mood swings, and reduced independence.
Care at Home
When an aging family member is diagnosed, you may be fearful of sending them to a nursing home. Even though seniors in this type of environment have begun to receive the coronavirus vaccine, it’s still a scary decision to have to make. If you’ve chosen to provide care at home, start by creating a safe environment. Your loved one should not have access to sharp objects or be positioned on the upper floor, where they risk falling downstairs. You’ll also want to do your research, and talk to others who have been in your shoes. Invest in home modifications, such as a walk-in shower, that will make your environment more functional for your entire family.
Understand that, although this is a labor of love, it is exponentially stressful, and you will need to plan for your own self-care. In addition to providing hands-on care, sometimes around the clock, you may also be subjected to watching someone you love slip further and further out of reality. This is emotionally taxing and may leave you feeling hopeless. Just know that your efforts are not unappreciated but that your loved one may not always be able to show it.
Even if your goal is to keep them in your home throughout the duration of their illness, it does not hurt to plan ahead for the financial aspect of long-term care, since Medicare doesn’t typically cover the costs, though there are instances where limited coverage is available.
Financial assistance may be found through the Veterans Administration, Medicaid, or other federal programs. For many, the majority of their living expenses will come from savings or a long-term healthcare insurance policy. Talk with your loved one and other family members about the possibility of selling their home to cover expenses, particularly if they have a hefty chunk of equity in the home or have paid off the mortgage. Note, the average cost of dementia care is approximately $287,000 over the course of five years.
Choosing A Nursing Home
The time may arise when you can no longer provide quality care at home. When this happens, it’s time to begin looking into a skilled nursing or memory care facility. The majority of these are private facilities, so fees and amenities can vary. You will also want to do your research here as well to make sure that your chosen facility has never been cited for elder abuse or neglect. If possible, schedule a visit or request a live online walk-through. Perhaps most importantly, go with your gut, and know that if something feels off, this is a good sign to keep looking.
Unfortunately, choosing a nursing home is no longer as simple as finding a place you can afford and with a staff that shows compassion. In today’s climate, there are special precautions we must take before sending our loved ones into what is potentially a stew brimming with a highly-contagious virus. Ask each center you interview about their pandemic precautions. They should explain, among other things, their daily disinfectant routine, vaccine availability, and how they plan to engage seniors in social activities without putting them at unnecessary risk. Talk about ways you can visit your loved one, such as through a window or on online video calls if in-person visits are restricted for the time being. Further, ask how they plan to ease your loved one’s mind when they inevitably ask to go home and you cannot be there to offer comfort.
Caring for a loved one with dementia of any kind is a full-time job. It requires planning, patience, and perseverance. Doing so also means you have to be prepared to release them to someone else’s care if you get overwhelmed and can no longer do so safely. The pandemic has made it even more difficult, but the above steps can help you both understand their condition and make decisions that will keep them safe and healthy through 2021.