Ask Miriam – April 2020

Published On: April 9th, 2020Categories: Ask Miriam
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Dear Miriam,

I am 74 years old and my husband is 80. He has had dementia for three years, and used to go to an adult day program three days a week until the center closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. So, the two of us are home alone together all day, every day, and I’m starting to tear my hair out. He repeats himself every five minutes, and sometimes he tries to leave the house. He doesn’t understand anything that’s going on. Our adult children do not live close by, and they are preoccupied with their own families. I feel terribly alone right now, and no one knows when this will all end. Please help.

—Isolated at Home

Dear Isolated,

I’m so glad that you reached out, and know that although it may feel as though you are alone right now, there are so many people in similar situations who are caring for someone at home with dementia and dealing with all the additional worries and stresses of both the spread of COVID-19 and of caregiving.

Structuring a routine at home is one of the first things that I recommend. Have specific times for waking up, dressing, breakfast, an activity (or a few), lunch, another set of activities, dinner, an activity, and then preparing for bed. And don’t forget that activities can be repeated; they will still be “new” to him. Try to also incorporate some movement into the day. There are a number of online resources that show stretches, chair yoga, or exercises that can easily be done at home. (You should do them, too!)

Activities can include tasks around the house: folding towels, organizing the silverware, sweeping, emptying the trash containers, and so on. You can also try simple puzzles with only a limited number of pieces (which can be ordered online), cutting out pictures from a magazine if it is safe for him to use scissors, or watching a favorite movie on tv.

Making sure that you have breaks is crucial. Perhaps you can start him with one of the activities and set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes (or more if that works), letting him know that you will check on him when the timer goes off. You should take that time to go to a different room (as long as he is safe where he is) and read a chapter in a book, listen to your favorite music, have a cup of tea, or talk to a friend on the phone…anything that will relax and refresh you. Do this several times a day. You may even want to write out the schedule for both of you and post it somewhere that he can see.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it may not be feasible to bring someone into the home to give you a break. But by trying to put into place some of the ideas above, you may be able to keep your sanity. Also know that you do not have to respond to everything that your husband says. For example, when he repeats himself, try simply changing the topic of conversation, or distract him with a snack. Or interrupt the repetition by telling him you need to get something from a different room and walk away.

I hope that some of these suggestions are helpful, and I encourage you and other caregivers to call our Alzheimer’s Los Angeles Helpline at 844-435-7259 for additional tips, ideas, and emotional support as we all try to get through this difficult time together.

Best,
Miriam

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