The link between memory loss, dementia, isolation and loneliness is well documented. But COVID-19 has put it at the forefront as part of our response to this national emergency. Families and professional caregivers are frustrated by the decline they see in their elders and in clients even as they understand the need to keep them safe through quarantine.
It is a valid concern. Dr. Carla Perissinotto, a geriatrician and associate professor at University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine, has studied the health effects of loneliness in older adults and found links to dementia, loss of mobility, cardiovascular decline and death. “The risks of loneliness and isolation are so great that we don’t know if we’re causing a lot of harm by totally socially isolating people. We need to proactively think about how we are supporting people, or we’re going to see a lot of complications.”
Isolation for loved ones living with dementia is particularly troubling. Although adults with dementia may be aware of the coronavirus outbreak and understand on some level what is going on, they have a high need for routine, for communication that keeps them oriented and for verbal and physical cues. Finding a way to manage these is critical when touch is limited and changes in routine are high.
As an Aging Life Care Specialist, I have always been attuned to the link between isolation, loneliness and cognitive decline. The coronavirus pandemic has brought this home to me in a way I had never hoped to see. It has been very difficult and emotional for my staff and our families. We share the family’s frustration in not being able to see their loved ones. At the same time, as a healthcare professional, I know how important the steps taken were to everyone’s safety.
Now more than ever, it is important to mitigate any cognitive decline that occurred during quarantine. Simple to use technology is a terrific way to keep a loved one with Alzheimer’s oriented through verbal and physical cues. A daily phone call can provide frequent, simple reminders like “wash your hands” or “stay at home” and helps to establish a routine while giving those all-important cues.
One such simple technology is CapTel. Too often we discount the impact hearing loss has on our elder’s cognition. CapTel is a federally funded free service and phone that is provided for people with mild hearing loss or memory loss. It is paid for using part of our phone bill taxes.
To qualify, documentation from a social worker, nurse or care manager that states the person has mild memory or hearing loss is all that is needed. The phone comes with its own hotspot so your loved one does not need WiFi or high speed internet where they are living. Upon receiving the phone, it simply needs to be plugged in and it is ready to use. A live person transcribes the conversation for reading while the conversation is going on. The transcribed notes can be left on the screen to review later.
Technology like CapTel requires nothing from your loved one living with dementia. This is the type of technology to focus on. Sociavi and GrandPad are two additional devices. They allow an elder to communicate with family members easily. Both offer the ability for visual cues on how to wash hands or put on and wear a mask. When you can’t be with them physically, finding technology that can be used to help orient them, keep them grounded and combat isolation is key. If you need help with your loved one or help in finding solutions to their isolation and loneliness, contact Springpoint at Home.