The lingering toll of COVID-19 on dementia care


The pandemic has taken a toll on just about everyone and every industry in varying degrees. Both professional and family caregivers are beginning to see the long-term impacts of more than a year of uncertainty. For many, the isolation has been detrimental to the physical and mental health of the ones they care for, adding to stress and anxiety in their own lives.

Even as we return to some sense of normalcy, life is anything but that for those in caregiving roles. With many restrictions still in place, family caregivers have had to unexpectedly fill in as makeshift activity directors in addition to providing around-the-clock care. Professional caregivers are working harder than ever to make up for massive staff shortages.

In a survey of 750 caregivers conducted by the National Caregiving Alliance, 72 percent of unpaid caregivers shared that the pandemic has caused them to feel more burned out than ever before. Thirty percent of respondents shared that the biggest stressor they have faced is not being able to take a break. This extreme burnout is especially prevalent among Generation Z and Millennial respondents. Eighty percent of this segment of respondents are in caregiving roles for the first time, and during a worldwide health crisis, nonetheless.

Anybody who has been on their caregiving journey for a long time knows that prioritizing self-care isn’t as easy as it sounds. It requires planning and forethought. To complicate things further, if the person being cared for is living with dementia symptoms, the time that is taken is often fleeting because their safety and well-being are of concern, making it difficult to fully embrace it.

So, how do we move forward?

While we are continuing to observe increased cognitive decline as the impact of the pandemic comes to light, it is more important than ever for you to accept help. This may seem counterintuitive, but engaging your loved ones or clients in Dementia-Aware activities that can keep them occupied even for a short amount of time can go very far in benefiting both of you. These small moments of respite can allow you to recharge with simple things like taking a bath, phoning a friend or closing your eyes just for a few peaceful moments.

To allow yourself to fully disconnect, it’s important to be able to not worry or stress during your “me time.” A great way to ensure this is to plan activities for the person you’re caring for that have a high chance of success. Here are a few ideas:

  • Create a collage from magazines
  • Twist nuts and bolts together
  • Play music that they love
  • Do a paint by numbers project
  • Fold clothes
  • Wash or polish silverware
  • Sort objects
  • Look at coffee table books
  • Clip coupons
  • Make cards with stamps and colored pencils
  • Molding dough or using modeling clay
  • Simple jigsaw puzzles
  • Pulling weeds or raking leaves
  • Simple workshop projects
  • Tracing leaves

If you’re still coming up blank, just put some thought into some of the things they enjoyed before dementia symptoms. When you give them a task-centered project, it makes them feel useful and gives them purpose. After all, we all want to feel included and valued. Self-esteem is an integral part of any human being, and living with dementia doesn’t change that.

Keep in mind that, while looking for activities to keep loved ones, patients or residents engaged, it’s about the process, not the end result. This will relieve any expectations for you, allowing you both to make the most out of this important time. For more Dementia-Aware strategies to avoid caregiver burnout, order the third edition of my best-selling book, A Loving Approach to Dementia Care.

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