Coronavirus and Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia: What You Need to Know

While having dementia or Alzheimer’s disease aren’t known to increase the risk for coronavirus, other factors may. These include advanced age, and having additional serious medical conditions such as heart disease, respiratory illnesses, diabetes and kidney failure. In addition, infections in general are frequently missed among people with dementia, which could lead to worsening cognitive abilities. 

Also, depending on the stage of the disease, communication may be difficult. Since much of the time, a family member is the main caregiver, it’s important to have a plan to stay safe during this uniquely challenging and stressful time.  

Understanding the Main Symptoms of Coronavirus

As we learn more about this new coronavirus, the list of symptoms has grown. It now includes cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, chills or shaking, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and recent loss of smell or taste. For more information on these and other signs of coronavirus, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  

When to Contact the Doctor 

If the person you care for shows signs of increased confusion or agitation, or any flu or pneumonia-like symptoms, you should call the doctor right away. Your doctor will also tell you if you should go to the emergency room.

The appointment might happen through a telehealth visit instead of in the office. This is to protect everyone’s health.  

You should also check with your doctor’s office to see if you can use a telehealth visit for regularly scheduled appointments for you or the person you care for. These virtual visits are now covered by Medicare due to the pandemic.

Tips for Staying Safe

The CDC has a set of guidelines to stay safe, including consistent hand-washing for you and your loved one – or use of hand sanitizers, and social distancing. You should limit visitors to those who are essential.  Any visitor, including outside care providers, should use face masks and follow hand-washing practices while with you and your loved one.

More details about staying safe can be found on the CDC website and from the Alzheimer’s Association.

What Palliative Care Provides

You may already be working with a palliative care team; but if it’s new to you, it’s important to know that this is a medical specialty that focuses on managing complex symptoms, side effects, and stress of serious illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. They work with your existing doctors to address symptoms such as depression, anxiety or difficulty sleeping. The team can teach you and your family about what might trigger some of the behavior symptoms and how to avoid them. And they can ease symptoms related to other medical problems such as heart disease, lung disease, or conditions that are painful.

They also educate you and guide you and your loved ones through all the distress caused by serious illnesses. The team will help you navigate the complex health care system. They will keep you, your family and all of your doctors informed, up to date and on the same page.

Palliative care specialists can help you plan in advance, especially since Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can be unpredictable and worsen over time. In fact, one of the most important things your palliative care team can do is help you fully discuss your health with your family caregivers.

The team will use their communication expertise to help you achieve your personal goals while living with the disease. They understand that every patient and every family is different. The team is there to help you and your family achieve the best possible quality of life. 

To learn more, visit GetPalliativeCare.org.

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