Learning to Sympathize: Caring for someone with Alzheimer's during COVID-19

Dancing in the Rain

We are all going through a storm, maybe not the same storm, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live. Where before we lived with a sense of spontaneity, checking out a new restaurant downtown, finding cute little shops to visit, or volunteering our time to a cause close to our hearts. Today we find ourselves looking for the latest Netflix show to binge or finding a new walking path to take on our nightly stroll. What this lack of spontaneity breeds is boredom and boredom often leads to new and sometimes challenging behaviors from ourselves and those around us. It also leaves us lacking a sense of purpose and greater belonging to the outside world. Although most of us have only just started weathering this storm of uncertainty with COVID-19, those living with memory impairment may weather a similar storm daily.

So how can we help ourselves as caregivers and those living with Alzheimer’s? How can we switch our mindset from waking up in the morning thinking, “I hope they will let me put their pants on” to something more productive and positive like:

  • How can we work together so they feel accomplished in getting dressed on their own?
  • It is OK if they don’t want to do it right now.
  • If they don’t put their pants on, it is not hurting them or myself. We can always try again later in the day.
Resident and associate smile through their masks

Try a different approach by asking, “Let’s go for a walk, here are your pants.” This situation offers a reason to put the pants on. You are presenting and not asking them to put their pants on. Presenting is best and adds normalcy, and something that makes sense. It is important to remember to pick your battles when caring for someone with Alzheimer’s.

Right now, we are in a unique situation where we can sympathize, more than ever before, with those living with memory impairment and their caregivers. Over the past few months have you noticed that activities like watching TV or listening to music have become, somehow, not enough to leave you satisfied? You are probably craving activities that offer more of a purpose, spontaneity, fun and things that make you laugh.

It is during these times that we learn to adapt, explore and dance in the rain. At our community, Laurelwood at the Pinehills, to add fun and spontaneity I have incorporated theme days into our programming. One example we had great success with was  National Lemon Meringue Pie Day which took place on August 15th.

At Northbridge our theme day looked like this:

  • Brain Games in the morning- how many words can we find in Lemon Meringue Pie? More impaired residents might say “pie” while others might say “melon”.
  • Memory Making Baking in the afternoon- start by generating reminiscing conversation, “do you like Lemon Meringue pie?“Did you often make it with your mother?” The smell of the lemon and the motion of whipping the egg whites may bring back pleasant memories.
  • After baking the pie, we enjoyed a slice in the courtyard as we continued to talk about family traditions and all the times we made or enjoyed Lemon Meringue Pie.

At home Programming tips from one of our Avita Program Directors, Alison Stockman:

*To make a day of it, you could also find a bakery that is a distance away and take a leisurely ride visiting places and landmarks that bring fond memories and encourage more conversation.

*A great resource to find fun theme days is the website Nationaldaycalendar.com. Not only will you find a list of fun days but also ideas on how to celebrate them.

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This article was written in collaboration with Alison Stockman, Avita Program Director at Laurelwood at The Pinehills.