According to research from Bradford University Dementia Group, one of our most essential psychological needs is the need for physical as well as emotional comfort (Kitwood 1997). In these times of confusion and uncertainty related to COVID-19, how can we communicate in a way that supports the emotional comfort, dignity and well-being of a loved one who is living with dementia?
If you’re caring for a spouse or family member at home, keeping their routine as consistent as possible will help your loved one feel more at-ease. You may want to keep a collection of familiar items on-hand such as family photographs, music from their late teens and twenties, favorite games, hobbies, and special movies to watch together. Incorporating items that relate to your loved one’s unique preferences and life experiences will help ensure that your time together is meaningful.
Your loved one may be concerned about information they are receiving from the news or other sources. It’s important to acknowledge and validate their concerns in a genuine manner, without over-informing and further contributing to feelings of agitation and anxiety. If they reside in an assisted living community or other setting that is currently not accepting visitors, you can explain, “There’s an illness going around, so the community where you live is being extra careful to keep everyone healthy.”
During this time, an extra measure of warmth and reassurance can go a long way in helping to increase your loved one’s feelings of safety and well-being. If visiting precautions prevent you from being with them in person, you may be able to stay in touch through options such as telephone calls, letters, postcards, or even video chats or email. Reminding your loved one that everything is taken care of with the community where they live can also help alleviate their worry.
It should also be noted that this is a particularly challenging time for many caregivers and families. Be sure that you’re giving yourself the necessary respite time to care for your own health and well-being. By reaching out for help and tending to your own needs, you make it possible to continue being fully present for your loved one.
Mike Direen is the Community Liaison for Adult Care Services, a non-profit organization that includes The Margaret T. Morris Center in Prescott and The Susan J. Rheem Adult Day Center in Prescott Valley. For more information, please visit www.AdultCareServices.org.