In this season of COVID-19, there is hyper-vigilance to protect our beloved seniors, since this virus seems to be harshest on them. Your loved one may be in a locked-down facility or restricted to their home with significantly reduced contact to the outside world. Either way, while keeping them protected, they are at risk for experiencing all the usual negative affects of social isolation: loneliness (a no-brainier), increased bouts of depression and anxiety, low energy, reduced mental sharpness, and an overall lack of healthy stimulation.
So, how do we battle social isolation for our loved ones living with dementia?
Turn off the news! Our loved ones living with dementia have a reduced ability to reason through all the negatives that the news delivers. It may cause them increased anxiety that they are unable to pull themselves out of as effectively as people with normal cognition.
If your loved one wants to watch TV, consider lighthearted programming. May I suggest the comedian Jeannie Robertson? She is a southern senior with a delightful sense of humor. You can find her on Pandora and YouTube.
Often times, our loved ones struggle with activity initiation, they are more so passive engagers. This becomes challenging when there are fewer people in and out of their every day lives. They have less to observe and fewer ‘others’ to initiate engagement. This is where we must get creative. If your loved one is living in a facility and their room is outward facing, try connecting through a window. Bring signs, balloons, music; possibly connect by phone while you are there. If it is a nice day, ask that they open the window! Be sure to maintain social distancing guidelines while you are at it, though.
Consider Face-timing with your loved one. This, for many, is a better option than a phone call, considering with a phone call, a voice is disconnected from the person and hard to place or keep straight. Use your Face-time to show them things they enjoy: your pets, new flowers coming up in your yard, grandchildren performing or just being cute. If they have access to a computer or iPad, consider making a video to send them. Send your loved one a simple activity to do (coloring, word search, a craft) and do it together while Face-timing.
If you are separated from your loved one by miles, consider reviving that age-old practice of letter writing. Everyone enjoys getting personal mail! Consider including pictures, notes, art work from grandchildren, funny stories, or pictures. Communicate with staff, if in a facility, or home caregivers to be on the lookout for mail so that they can assist your loved one in opening, reading, and displaying the notes.
Encourage your loved one to stay active: bean bag toss, swatting a balloon, tossing a beach ball, walking, simple chair exercises. All of these activities keep your loved one moving, their blood flowing, and mental sharpness. Check out the National Institutes on Aging’s Go4Life program. They have many videos and easy home exercise videos available free to the public.
Don’t forget the importance of music to uplift spirits, bring calm, spark old memories, and bring a positive atmosphere to your loved one. Choose music familiar to them from their youth and young adult days. Sing and dance, clap your hands, and just be silly together!
If you are able to be with your loved one during this time, consider gathering historical data that may still be available in their memory, go through old pictures and organize them, and record stories about their childhood and youth that may still remain intact. Make sure this doesn’t become a frustrating activity. Take what they can remember and rejoice together what they are still able to share with you, and don’t worry about what they can’t. A great “ice-breaker” game called "Shake Loose a Memory" gives leading questions that may illicit memories for discussion. You can find it here, as well as many other adult, dementia friendly activities. Dust off those old games such as Dominoes, Scrabble, Checkers, or cards and enjoy with your loved one. Remember, fun is the only rule, so if you can’t remember the rules or they are too complicated, simplify!
Enjoy the benefits of a simpler lifestyle during this season. Look for ways to engage your loved ones, while maintaining social distancing. And don’t forget - WASH YOUR HANDS!
Written by Melanie Cahill, MS, Engagement Program Coordinator at Care Around the Block. Melanie facilities our EMBRACE program - Do you struggle with isolation, lack of cognitive stimulation, or dementia? EMBRACE could be right for you. Everyone needs purpose and meaning in their life. By recognizing this fundamental need, EMBRACE is designed to help our clients engage in life. Call our office at (865)444-6787 to sign up.
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