By Lauren Mahakian. Originally published in “The Alzheimer’s Whisperer” in PV News

The last two months have been a roller coaster ride, from hearing about some virus that originated overseas to being isolated in our homes and denied access to the beach, hiking trails, shopping malls, and other places where people might gather. Current circumstances are unlike anything most of us have ever encountered in our lives, and it’s a challenge to retain our sanity. Extroverts are screaming to get out. Introverts are tired of having too much alone time. Everyone wants to return to normal, however we get there.

Let’s put our own experiences and feelings aside for a moment and imagine how challenging this situation is for someone with dementia. My clients struggle with remembering where they left their keys, in one case while they are hanging from a clip on her purse. This “new normal” is anything but normal for those with a memory impairment. Masking memory loss is part of their daily life. Developing coping mechanisms for that memory loss is an exhausting chore. Coping mechanisms stop working when nothing is normal, when nothing seems real. The natural response for those with dementia is confusion, not by choice but because there is no logical path forward. It’s taxing at best, and their memory impairment may even accelerate because of the stress.

Many of my clients are caring for loved ones with dementia. Well spouses or children, they are facing new challenges most of us can’t even imagine:
• The husband whose wife was a few days from entering a dementia care facility, and now is the sole care provider at home. He reaches out to care agencies for help only to learn that they can no longer provide in-home care at this time. At any price.
• The daughter whose father is in assisted living, even though he rightly belongs in an Alzheimer’s care facility and she can no longer visit him.
• The woman whose sister lives out of state and was just beginning to address an inevitable transition to a dementia care facility and now can’t even travel to be with her.
These are very real circumstances that people are facing during this COVID-19 pandemic and the isolation that has been imposed as a result.

What to do
Isolation leads to loneliness. Isolation leads to depression. Isolation, for someone with a memory impairment, can be devastating, accelerate memory loss, and lead to extreme depression. Isolation, to someone who has to care for their memory-impaired loved one who is facing all of these issues, and more, can add to this stress. Frustration and even anger are common, and this is not good under the best of circumstances.

I don’t want to leave this as a dire circumstance with no solution. “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” we are told. How do you make lemonade out of this trash-can full of COVID-19 lemons?

My fundamental advice, now during COVID-19 isolation orders and always, stay engaged with your loved ones as much as possible. If isolated with them, find activities you can do together. Playing games and working on puzzles together are common activities among my clients, but also find things that engage all the senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell if possible. Consider activities that don’t require a lot of set-up time but still provide immediate feedback and remember that the activity is the goal, not success.

If isolated away from your loved one, connect with them regularly. Find ways to use modern social media to stay in touch or visit them visually through video calls or other technology. If they are in a community, explore what that community can do to help.

Whatever your situation, remember to care for yourself. Put on a mask and get out of the house for a walk if no other activity is available to you. Take care!

Lauren Mahakian is a certified dementia practitioner and offers a free podcast, Unlocking the Doors of Dementia™ with Lauren. Visit familyconnectmemorycare.com for more information

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