Dementia worsens during Covid-19 | 20 January 2021
While the Seychelles community and government have been concerned about the risk of infection from Covid-19 of our elderly and have taken steps to restrict visits in the homes for the elderly, seniors with dementia and their caregivers are reeling from the negative side effects of this isolation. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 70% of dementia caregivers have observed a decline in their loved one’s memory or behaviour, according to a study by US Against Alzheimer’s.
It is not just symptoms and cognitive decline that have worsened. There has also been a striking rise in deaths – more than 10% year over year – from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia during the first six months of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Why is dementia getting worse during the coronavirus pandemic?
Numerous social, emotional, and physical changes have contributed to increased cognitive impairment in seniors with dementia. Some of these are:
Stress speeds up the progression of neurodegenerative diseases like dementia, according to research from the University of Texas. Fear of mortality and personal health concerns have become both prominent during the pandemic.
Lack of stimulation
Regular physical and mental stimulation. We all know that activities and exercises, puzzles and craft projects slow cognitive decline and memory loss. Daily stimulation also reduces dementia behaviour like wandering, aggression, and restlessness, according to the US National Institute on Ageing. Without regular activities, outings, and social connection, seniors with dementia are more likely to spend time passively watching TV or napping than pursuing interactive, brain-stimulating activities.
The study shows that in the US the risk of Alzheimer’s nearly doubled in lonely adults, and mental decline occurred more quickly in lonely seniors with dementia. Isolation also exacerbates chronic conditions, increases anxiety and senior depression, and may lead to early mortality.
Sixty-two percent of adult children caring for their parents or elderly relations say their loved one has suffered physically or mentally because of isolation during the pandemic, according to a December 2020 survey from A Place for Mum. In the Seychelles, older adults are being left behind during this strenuous time not only because of the lack of medical staff to do home visits, but also due to the restrictions imposed. Unfortunately, older generations are not in the same position to use digital technology to keep them socially integrated. As a result, not all of them understand clearly how this pandemic is changing the whole national scenario. Sadness and loneliness are the most common feelings among our senior members of the society during this pandemic. The cost of living, forced isolation, unattended medical issues are also causing harm to this vulnerable group of our society. Very little, or nothing extra, is being done to protect them.
Seniors with middle-to-late stage dementia may have trouble with verbal communication, and mask-wearing can complicate non-verbal interaction.
Dementia-related death rose
More people have died of dementia in 2020 than in 2019 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Covid-19 deaths have disproportionately affected people with memory conditions, many of whom are elderly. However, non-Covid related deaths from dementia have also risen during the pandemic – more than 10% year over year. Many side effects of pandemic restrictions like loneliness and changes in care plan have contributed to the spike in deaths caused by Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
It would be interesting to find out if there has been a rise in dementia in the Seychelles as well since the pandemic started last year, or even if there have been more deaths which could be attributed to the precautionary isolation measures.
What can you do if you have any concerns?
1. You could call a nurse in charge of local clinics, if there is any concern. You can contact one on 4388000. Some clinics are still offering nurse home visits, and the nurses will be able to identify those in need of urgent assessment.
2. There are some hospital units that actually address any concerns and guide patients if they are being followed by their specialists.
3. Some private clinics are offering good quality health services, as an alternative to the public health centres. The Euromedical Clinic is one of them and this is the number: 4324999 Ext 5 (Dr Aleksander Jesic).
4. Most local NGOs have a help line that can be used to ask for help or advice. The Seychelles Alzheimer’s helpline number is 2817878.
5. Some NGOs are on social media, and they can help.
Otherwise, it’s all up to us (family members, neighbours, friends) to check that the elderly are given the means to indulge in stimulating activities live with you at home. If they are in the elderly homes, the same applies, even if they are asked to keep to their room. Give them a call to give them moral support. We all need comfort in those difficult times, especially them.
Contributed by members of SAF (Seychelles Alzheimer’s Foundation)
Source: Aged Care Newsletter