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Oliver: Caregivers face challenges in this time of COVID-19

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

Like the rest of you, Tony and I are holed up in our house, dutifully following the state directive to shelter in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in our area.

Gov. JB Pritzker put the “shelter-in-place” order into effect at 5 p.m. Saturday.

Then again, we probably were doing that at least a week before the order went out. That may have something to do with being inundated with the news reports about the virus as a journalist.

I’m not much of a risk-taker, and going anywhere except for places that are “essential” seems like a terrible idea. In fact, I’m more than a little nervous just going to necessary places.

Things are made decidedly more difficult by being a caregiver for my husband, who has early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

As anyone familiar with Alzheimer’s and its related dementias knows, these situations are challenging even when there isn’t a pandemic. However, the nature of these diseases means that although they don’t make ones more susceptible to COVID-19, which is a respiratory illness, the associated behaviors of dementia do increase risk, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

For instance, one might forget to wash one’s hands frequently. Or forget that it’s not OK to touch one’s face. Or that there needs to be a 6-foot space between people.

Also, illnesses such as the flu and COVID-19 can increase cognitive impairment in those with dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers a few tips for caregivers like me:

• Increased confusion is often a first sign of an illness for someone with dementia. If the person with dementia shows rapidly increased confusion, it’s a good idea to contact a health care provider for advice.

• People with dementia might need more reminders (perhaps written) and support to remember to wash their hands and keep things clean. A sign could remind them to wash their hands with soap for
20 seconds. They might need a demonstration of how to wash their hands. And, if you can get some, hand sanitizer can be an alternative for those with dementia who can’t get to a sink to wash their hands easily.

• Have on hand enough medication to last awhile so that you don’t have to make trips to the pharmacy. A lot of our area pharmacies also deliver.

• Think ahead and make alternative plans for care management if the primary caregiver should become sick.

That last one could be a little problematic for a lot of us, and it’s one I do have to give some consideration to. I can’t guarantee even with every precaution that I won’t get sick. And I’ve felt some of the frustration at having to keep an eagle eye on Tony to keep him from getting sick.

Still, my frustration is nothing compared with those families whose loved ones are in facilities that are on lockdown. Although those measures are necessary to keep the residents safe, it can be heartbreaking not to be able to visit a loved one with dementia.

One of the worst things for those with dementia is social isolation. Yet that’s exactly what we all need to do in order to not spread the virus.

The Alzheimer’s Association recommends trying to work with the facility on lockdown to provide video chats. Or to offer frequent updates if the person with dementia isn’t able to handle video chats or phone calls.

No question, this is a hard time for all of us. My heart goes out to all my fellow caregivers and to all the families whose loved ones have the added challenge of dementia.

Here’s hoping this passes sooner rather than later.

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at jolivercolumn@gmail.com.

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