Comfort someone with dementia when visits aren’t allowed
To slow the spread of Covid-19 among seniors, many nursing homes and assisted living communities haven’t been allowing entry to visitors, volunteers, and nonessential personnel.
Because seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia are at high risk of developing severe illness or dying from Covid-19, these measures are critical for minimizing exposure to the virus and reducing the chance of getting sick.
But without regular family contact, seniors with dementia are especially likely to feel scared, lonely, agitated, confused, or angry because they can’t fully understand or remember what’s causing these major lifestyle changes.
We share 6 tips that help you comfort and calm someone with dementia who lives in a nursing home while visitors aren’t allowed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
1. Stay in regular contact
If your older adult has a telephone, knowing when to expect a call from you can help your older adult feel more secure and connected while things feel strange all around them.
Set up a regular schedule for when you’ll contact them and stick to it. This is especially important if they aren’t able to initiate calls on their own.
If your older adult is able to understand reminder notes, write down a clear call schedule that they can keep handy and send it to them via care package or mail.
If they’re not able to understand notes, a clear schedule can help nursing home staff members answer questions about when you’ll be in touch next.
Encourage other family members to stay in touch as well and consider sharing some dementia communication tips with them.
2. Take a moment to relax before speaking with them
Before you speak with your older adult, take a few minutes to breathe deeply and relax.
The tone and volume of your voice adds a lot to communication. Often, if we’re feeling stressed, that can subconsciously come across through our voice.
Even if your older adult doesn’t consciously register this, it can subconsciously affect them as well and make them more likely to feel stressed or agitated.
To help the conversation be as pleasant and calm as possible, it helps if you’re feeling calm before you begin.
3. Limit sharing of Covid-19 information
Explanations may become overwhelming because they may not be able to process and understand the information.
That’s why it’s important to talk to them about coronavirus in a way they can understand and that helps them feel calm and secure.
While explaining, it’s important to keep it very simple, stay calm, and be reassuring.
You might say something like, “We can’t visit right now because there’s a nasty cold going around and everyone is staying home and taking extra care. You’re safe where you are and we’re safe where we are so there’s nothing to worry about. Everything is ok and we’ll be together soon.”
If they tend to care more about others than themselves, you might also say that you don’t want a grandchild or yourself to catch it.
You know their personality and cognitive state the best, so you’ll know whether or not sharing any further details with them will upset them or help them feel better because they have a better understanding of what’s going on.
Then, try to distract them by talking about something pleasant.
The more advanced their dementia, the less you may want to share. Ask yourself: What can they understand? How will they respond? Will explaining cause more anxiety than comfort?
4. Reduce distress during phone or video calls
Because of the changes in their daily routines and the long-term effects of isolation due to coronavirus safety precautions, it’s understandable that your older adult may be feeling upset, agitated, or distressed.
They may ask repeatedly why you don’t visit, say that they want to go home, or make angry accusations.
To help defuse these situations and reduce their distress during calls, try these techniques:
If possible, use video calling
It’s often more comforting when they can see your face so it’s helpful to use video calling when possible.
Plan the call in advance
Based on previous calls, you probably have a good idea of what’s upsetting your older adult or what they’re fixated on.
Before the call, make a list of the issues that are likely to come up and plan your responses. For tricky issues, you might need to do some research to find helpful responses.
It will be much easier to keep the conversation calm when you’ve thought in advance about how to respond.
For example, if they always ask why you haven’t visited, you might want to listen carefully to get a sense of the emotions behind what they’re saying. Perhaps they’re angry, sad, or scared.
When you respond, keep the emotion in mind so you can also validate their feelings with your response.
If they’re feeling sad, you might say “I miss you so much and think about you all the time. I’m sad that I can’t visit right now, but there’s a nasty cold that’s going around. To keep people from getting it, visitors aren’t allowed right now. I promise to visit as soon as it’s allowed. For now, I’m loving talking to you on the phone (or seeing you on the video screen).”
Then, try to redirect their attention by asking a question about a topic that interests them or by sharing pleasant news they’ll be interested in – that might include family members, grandchildren, or favorite memories, foods, and hobbies.
Tailor your response so it’s appropriate to their current cognitive state, depending on where they are in their dementia progression.
It’s also a good idea to prepare some pleasant topics for discussion. This can help keep them in a positive frame of mind.
For example, what do they usually enjoy talking about? What tends to capture their attention? What usually makes them smile or laugh?
And to make it easier for them to communicate, especially when they can’t see you, use short, direct sentences and pause to allow them plenty of time to process what they’re hearing and be able to respond.
Keep in mind that the purpose of the call is to help them feel connected and secure. The content of the discussion is less important.
Take notes to improve future calls
Every person and moment is different, so the techniques, responses, and topics that you try may not always work right away or in that particular moment.
It’s helpful to take a few minutes after the call to take some notes on what went well, what didn’t work (and why not), and any triggers that might have contributed to them getting upset.
This helps you plan ahead for the next call. You’ll have time to come up with different responses or topics and find ways to avoid or reduce triggers.
5. Send letters or care packages
To help brighten your older adult’s mood, mail or drop off letters or care packages for them.
Small gifts sent more frequently can help remind them that you’re thinking of them and care about them.
You might include items that you usually bring when you visit, favorite snacks, and comfort items. And to remind them that they’re loved and missed, you include photos or a handwritten letter.
You can also encourage family and friends to send letters, cards, photos, or care packages as well.
- Fun activities that suit their current ability level – puzzles, sensory activities, other games and activities designed for people with dementia
- Soothing items like a cozy blanket, a soft stuffed animal, a lifelike doll to cuddle
- A custom photo book, calendar, blanket, or puzzle that has photos of favorite memories
6. Get help from nursing home staff
If the nursing home or care community offers any types of “safe” in-person visiting, like an outdoor setting, take advantage of that whenever possible.
Or, if you can get help from a staff member, you might be able to call them while standing outside their window or outside any accessible window at the community so they can talk with you and see you right in front of them.
Recommended for you:
- Best Way to Make Video Calls to Seniors with Alzheimer’s or Dementia in Nursing Homes
- Nursing Home Lockdown: 6 Ways to Stay Connected with Seniors During a Coronavirus Scare
- 8 Shelter-in-Place Coronavirus Tips for Senior Care in Your Home
By DailyCaring Editorial Team