WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — If you have a loved one in a long-term care facility, you haven’t been able to see them face-to-face for weeks. People in care facilities are considered among the most vulnerable when it comes to coronavirus.
While video chats and technology have made communicating easier, there are still some challenges, especially for those with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Association estimates more than 580,000 people living in Florida have Alzheimer’s or dementia. The organization says two-thirds of people living in assisted-living facilities have some form of dementia.
Michelle Branham, vice president for public policy for the Alzheimer’s Association of Florida, offered some advice to families.
First of all, she suggests we all put ourselves in the shoes of our loved ones who may be in facilities right now.
“They can’t leave their rooms right now. They can’t commune. They can’t go to movie night. They can’t eat together. They can’t have other loved ones come and visit, and the few interactions they have they are wearing protective gear. So, they really aren’t getting a whole lot of interaction there. And being relegated to just your room for long, long periods of time with no human interaction, really isolating,” said Branham.
Connecting by video chat can be encouraging to all involved because it breaks the isolation, but talking with a loved one on video chat can be a clumsy practice at times. Branham said there are some ways to make the situation better.
“I think first it’s about what time of day is the best for your loved one. So, sometimes the mornings are a bit better. And so once you learn to see their schedule, you’ll see what times they feel best. And most alert. And then it’s really important as a caregiver or a loved one that you’re available during that time, if you can be, for the video chat,” said Branham.
Making sure the internet connection is strong and that there is somebody present to help your loved one through the chat will also help.
“I think giving permission for it to be a little awkward and being OK with a little bit of the awkwardness when we might be talking over each other a little bit. I’ve learned with my own team to pause a little bit more for a response. Be OK with a little bit of silence. Make sure my connections are really good, because that’s the most distracting thing is not being connected. And you know, with Zoom and all of these different technologies, the connections themselves can get frustrating.”
Just seeing a loved one’s face can be a huge help.
Recently, the Alzheimer’s Association announced a new statewide program to help Florida seniors stay connected. Tablets equipped with the ability to play music and show pictures are being provided to 150 facilities, to help people travel virtually.
The programs on the tablet are clear and straightforward. A patient can just click the face of a loved one to connect in a chat. The tablets can each hold up to 20 user profiles.
“What’s really cool is Florida is setting the standard for other states. Right after this meeting, I have a meeting with a couple of other states, meetings back to back, about how we are using technology so they can think about employing that," said Branham.
The simplicity of the tablets is helpful.
“What I like about the tablets is it really depends on what you’re feeling that day and how connected you feel like being. Maybe you just want to have a book read to you. Before when we were at the Azheimer’s Association, before COVID, our volunteers would love to read, that was a big thing, was just reading to people. So, since we can’t do that in person right now, having an audio book read might be the next best thing.”
There are 1.8 million unpaid caregivers in the state of Florida. It’s important for the caregivers to also recognize their own needs.
“You don’t have respite. You don’t have adult day. You have an unusual schedule, and you’re home with your loved one who might be experiencing more anxiety and more behavioral issues than usual because of the stress and anxiety. So, I always say to my caregivers, make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Make sure that you accept help when people ask. And reach out for it. I think that’s vital right now to make sure you’re OK. We lose a lot of caregivers to illness because they don’t take care of themselves first and the stress is so incredible,” said Branham.
The Alzheimer’s Association has an online confidential support group and a 24-hour helpline. There’s no limit to the number of times you can use them. Call 1-800-272-3900 to get connected.