Staying at home is hard for everyone – but especially if you’re a caregiver to someone who’s elderly or living with dementia. Here are some tips our own professionals are using in our care homes, to help you through the lockdown.
Maintain a routine – even if it’s a new one
People with dementia feel calmer in a routine. Any changes to that can lead to stress. That’s why it’s important to maintain a routine during lockdown – even if it’s a new one. You may not be able to go for twice-daily walks, for example, or visit the same shop or café, or go to Church. Try to find alternatives, such as armchair exercise, walks in the garden, online Church services, and daily sit-down ‘coffee mornings’, perhaps with other family members over Skype or Zoom. Whatever new schedule you come up with, try to stick to the same times daily and weekly.
That’s easier said than done during a global pandemic, but it’s important to remember that your loved one will pick up on your body language, and sometimes copy it. In our care homes we avoid having the news on, for example, as the negative stories and footage can make residents (and staff) feel anxious. Stick to lighter TV and radio shows or try watching some classic films, especially some which may spark memories or stories.
Be prepared to repeat yourself
Remember, cognitive decline plus stress can lead to confusion. Your loved one will need reminding of why you’re no longer able to go out so much, or why you’re not receiving visitors. Keep the message simple, and try and keep it upbeat: “There’s a nasty virus and we don’t want to catch it so we’re all staying indoors for now.”
Music is therapy
We all know that music is not only a great form of exercise, it’s relaxing, stimulating and triggers memories – all pluses for people living with dementia. Dig out some old records or CDs to play. Put together a playlist on Spotify or Playlist for Life. Or perhaps go retro and make up a mix tape – that act alone can lead to memories, stories and some fun activities. If you have relatives or friends who play instruments, we’re willing to bet they’d love to record some video or audio for you. The great thing about everyone being in a lockdown is that we’re all flexing our creative muscles as well as looking for things to entertain ourselves – they’ll be happy to oblige (and the grandkids will be happy to show off!)
Keep up the community and intergenerational links
One of the upsides of our care home lockdowns has been the outpouring of love and community spirit – and it goes both ways. Our residents and staff have worked hard to maintain links with schoolchildren and nursery schools, for example, writing to them and sending them video messages. Musicians have found ways to keep visiting, performing gigs in our car parks. Try letter writing or sending postcards – you could even pop some through neighbours’ doors if you’re out for a walk. Join in the Clap for Carers every Thursday evening at 8pm for a chance to see your neighbours – even if it’s at a distance. Some elderly residents are setting up online quizzes and telephone rotas to keep in touch and their spirits up. Reach out and, we promise, people will reach back.
This is a great time to renew or deepen family connections. Look through your old photos, make up some new albums, then if you like, share them digitally (a family WhatsApp or private Facebook group is a great way to do this). It’s also a time of making new memories and to document this important time in history. You could try journalling or scrap-booking. Or make it a family project and involve your children and grandchildren.
We may be restricted with our outdoor exercise, but there’s no restriction on what we can do in our own homes and gardens. Spring cleaning, potting new plants, starting a vegetable garden – these are all ways to stay active and occupied. There is no shortage of online classes, from yoga to dance. Some of our most magical moments in our care homes these last few weeks have been when a resident or staff member breaks into a song or a dance. Our staff have been catching the bug too, setting each other dance challenges on the popular TikTok app! It lifts the spirits like nothing else – and keeps us all moving.
Embrace new technology
If you have access to video calls via a computer or phone, use them. Have a friend or relative talk you through the process if you’re not sure. It may seem daunting but you’ll be surprised how easy it is (many of our residents are whizzes on the iPads, some are even becoming TikTok stars!) And the effect of seeing someone’s smiling face rather than a voice on a phone is priceless. Set up the times in advance – for weekly calls or something more frequent. That way not only do you have something on your calendar, the other parties will be more likely to stick to it. Keep them short, especially if young children are involved. That way nobody gets bored quickly.
Carve out some time each day to do something that makes you happy. If it’s a crossword, a chapter of a book, picking up the phone to a friend, or plonking yourself in your favourite armchair to just ‘be’ – do it. Make time every day for something that brings you joy.
Age UK’s helpline offers everything from computer and IT to dementia advice. Tel: 0800 678 1602 Lines are open 8am-7pm, 365 days a year.
Alzheimers Scotland runs a 24 hour Freephone Dementia Helpline on 0808 808 3000.
Alzheimer’s Society has a range of publications aimed at coping with dementia during lockdown, and is running a blog series Life During Lockdown. More here.
Balhousie Care Group’s homes are busy right now with tons of different activities, exercise classes and art and writing projects. For inspiration, follow us on Facebook and Twitter or sign up for our weekly relatives’ newsletter here.