Alzheimer’s Foundation of America: How to connect with loved ones during pandemic shutdowns

Coronavirus

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — While states across the country reopen after months of isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic, some still face the challenge of not being able to visit loved ones in nursing homes.

Since residents in long-term care facilities are among the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recommends that nursing homes not reopen to outside visitors until the last phase of its reopening guidelines.

The Georgia Department of Community Health reported that 97 percent of nursing home residents in facilities with 25 or more beds have now been tested for COVID-19. This marks a 12 percent improvement in one week. Additionally, staff testing in nursing homes is up 13 percent week-to-week.

Still, many nursing homes are continuing to limiting outside visitors, given the high risk to seniors with underlying health conditions.

Director of Educational and Social Services for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) Jennifer Reeder says one of the hardest parts of the COVID-19 pandemic for families who have relatives with Alzheimer’s disease living in a care setting is not being able to see their loved ones in person.

“I think it can be obviously very distressing for family members to still not be able to see their loved ones or be physically there to care for them when they are feeling stressed or anxious,” Reeder said. “But it is all about safety.”

However, Reeder says there are ways families can stay connected with their loved ones from anywhere.

“Video chat platforms like FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype allow you and your loved one to see and talk with one another from anywhere,” Reeder said. “Ask your loved one’s care setting if they can offer this type of service.”

She says a simple phone call, email, or letter is another good way to keep in touch.

“Care packages can be a really great way to reminisce, memories if you’re sending old photographs or favorite types of lotion or food and we also recommend music,” she added. “Music is a wonderful way to connect.”

“A care package with your loved one’s favorite snacks, trinkets, and other fun items can let them know that you are thinking of them,” Reeder said. “It can also help provide them with comfort, improve their mood, and reduce stress or anxiety.”

She also recommends having a dialogue through photographs.

“Some care settings are working with families to regularly send pictures of their residents to their loved ones and also inviting families to send photos in return for the residents to see,” Reeder said.

“In some cases, they’ll encourage ‘themed’ photos to keep things fun and engaging. This can also have the added benefit of eliciting memories.”

She recommends asking about what steps the care setting is taking to deliver activity programming like music, art, dance/movement, crafts, and exercise, that can help keep your loved one engaged and active.

Reeder also says it’s important to keep in touch with the staff taking care of your loved one so you can get regular updates.

“If your loved one has special care needs, such as physical or occupational therapy, or needs other personal care services, like getting toenails or fingernails cut, find out how the facility is delivering those services or what alternatives are in place,” Reeder said.

“I think its really great to have that connection with the staff who can help build a bridge to make that connection.”

AFA’s Helpline, staffed entirely by licensed social workers, is available seven days a week to answer questions or provide additional information and support. The helpline can be reached by calling 866-232-8484, visiting www.alzfdn.org and clicking on the chat icon in the lower, right-hand corner of the home page, or sending a text message to 646-586-5283.

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