If it is possible for a global pandemic to have a silver lining, those who love and care for people living with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia have found it.
“Their world wasn’t as upset as our assisted living residents who are more active,” said Nan Stewart, executive director of Lutheran Social Services Kensington Place, a senior living facility in Columbus. “With memory care, their life has a rhythm and consistency to help keep them calm and content. They were probably the least affected by it. It’s a small group and we were able to keep the consistency going.”
The staff at the Geraldine Schottenstein Cottage at Wexner Heritage Village, a memory care assisted living facility in Columbus, also worked to keep things running smoothly during the pandemic, Leslie Fulford, WHV director of community outreach, said.
“Our residents were out of their rooms by 9 a.m. and had full days of activities, so there was no interruption to their regular routines. Having a consistent staff presence and activity schedule helped during that time also, so our team often worked six days a week rather than five to keep that consistency for our residents, especially when their families couldn’t visit on the weekends.”
Keith Schuss, a member of the WHV board of directors and the son of a Schottenstein Cottage resident, said his mother moved from assisted living to the Cottage at the start of the pandemic.
“As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened,” Schuss said. “She didn’t miss us, which was great. It meant she was enjoying herself.”
That doesn’t mean the isolation demanded by the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t take a toll on memory care patients and their families, these sources said.
Home Care Assistance Columbus owner and president Lori Wengerd said it is the adult children and spouses of people with dementia and related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s often suffered the most when they lost the ability to come in contact with a loved one.
“It’s the one at home who suffers,” Wengerd said. “If they can’t get into a facility to take care of that loved one, it is taking away a big part of their life. And people whose spouses are at home with dementia lost the ability to have respite and that has a huge impact on partners and other caregivers and that is so important for them.”
The senior care experts agreed that window visits were nice and, for many, enough contact to keep them happy. For others, they said, it just wasn’t enough.
Stewart said, “it’s their parent losing more and more every day. Every day is another step away from them.”
Wengerd said those with dementia and living at home during the pandemic might not have had the same level of daily interaction than those living in a specialized facility and it has cost many of them a great deal.
“There is no doubt that when someone has any kind of dementia, mental engagement makes all the difference,” said Wengerd, the chair of the Ohio Department of Aging’s Ohio Advisory Council for Aging. “If the older adult is not able to have the same conversations they were having before, it’s going to impact their cognition.”
Wengerd said she tells client families who saw a loved-one’s condition decline during the pandemic that it did provide some blessings in disguise.
“There are families who feel sad that their loved one who has dementia isn’t recognizing them or has lost something during the pandemic,” Wengerd said. “I remind them that the blessing is that people with dementia often don’t know something is missing.”
Miriam Segaloff is a freelance writer from Gahanna.