Caring for seniors has proved to have some unique challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. (File photo)

Dementia intensifies loneliness and loss for seniors in pandemic, says caregiver

Seniors care expert says patience and sharing keys to helping those with dementia cope through virus

Living with dementia during a global pandemic isn’t easy.

Luckily, there’s many ways individuals can help seniors battling cognitive decline cope during these difficult times, said Mandi Strickland, client care coordinator for Home Instead.

With Home Instead, Strickland offers live-in care in Port Coquitlam for seniors in their own homes, many of whom have declining cognitive function.

READ MORE: PHOTOS: B.C. seniors offer advice to younger generations

Seniors, especially those battling Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, have been faced with unique and often scary challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Strickland.

An already often isolated demographic, she said seniors have been forced into even deeper isolation as many are vulnerable to suffering fatal complications from the virus.

“Physical distancing is even more necessary with seniors seeing as they are the vulnerable public right now. Isolation can always make you feel lonely and seniors often already had that experience prior to COVID-19,” she said.

READ MORE: ‘I love you – stay away’ says B.C. senior to family this Mother’s Day

Other than the loneliness brought on by not being able to visit with family, Strickland said another big challenge some seniors face arises when they are living with declining cognitive function in a world that has been suddenly turned upside down.

“Someone with a cognition concern might not understand why physical distancing is necessary, so it exacerbates that feeling of loneliness and loss,” she said.

Strickland has had to have numerous challenging conversations with her clients, telling them why they can no longer see their families.

When trying to explain that physical distancing is important to a senior who may not believe it, Strickland said patience is key.

“It’s just about staying calm and using, as we call it, language of dementia or Alzheimer’s’s,” she said.

“So being able to speak to them and using those key words and trigger words, just to make sure that they understand.

“I might have to explain it three times in a two-hour visit but I just stay calm and make sure that I understand they’re just not getting this and it’s scary.

“The unknown if you have Alzheimer’s’s or dementia is a scary way to be, and I think we’re all a little scared in general due to the world and what’s going on right now.”

While these are challenging times for seniors, the following gestures, Strickland said, can go a long way:

  • Get creative with video: Strickland suggests sharing old travel videos or scheduling a Zoom date with the seniors in your life.
  • Keep it classic: Picking up the phone and sharing a story or fun memory can remind seniors that the connection is still there.
  • Go old-school: A hand-written letter can mean a lot more to seniors than a younger person would think.

“Send your grandma a letter and maybe a picture of you guys when you were young at an outing at the lake or something,” said Strickland. “Something to spark that memory, that love.”

READ MORE: Kelowna-based community association helping seniors through pandemic

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