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    Dementia at a social distance

    You know and we know: monitoring someone’s overall health has become even more complex as we collectively cope with COVID-19. That gap widens if you’re watching for red flags around Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia in someone you love right now.
    By Home Care Assistance - July 27, 2020

    Home Care Assistance is Changing the Way the World Ages. This is the latest installment of our “How To” series, where we lay out smart and easy-to-understand advice on navigating the aging process.

    Questions abound: how can I tell the difference between regular signs of aging and dementia? What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and other dementias? And more and more commonly, how can I keep an eye on memory loss while social distancing in Montreal this summer? 

    It is possible to spot the warning signs for memory loss that falls outside the normal range, even at a distance. Home Care Assistance has pulled together three best practices to help you stay alert even as our regular caregiving routines change and evolve in pandemic times:

    1. Look for visual signs of trouble anytime you’re in person together. 

      More than 40% of people over the age of 65 experience some kind of memory loss. But Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are different. Watching for visual cues that might be creeping into view can help you think beyond the more typical symptoms we tend to associate with Alzheimer’s (like forgetfulness). Even if you’re seeing someone less often right now, seizing any in-person opportunity to zero in on hygiene, appearance and weight can be a good indicator of how someone’s doing. Each of those factors helps tell a piece of someone’s cognitive story. From cleanliness to the alignment of buttons to the appropriateness of clothing choices (think a heavy jacket on a very warm day), these signs speak volumes to a senior’s ability to maintain bathing routines and exercise good judgement. Same goes for looking beyond the individual to get a good sense of their surroundings. Use any in-person visit to see if their rooms look organized, or appear to be in disarray. Taken collectively, changes like that could indicate how well a person is coping, or not. If you start noticing any of these shifts, take note, and keep track of how they appear on the next visit. 
    2. Build in virtual touchpoints to consistently ask better questions.

      Dementia prevalence doubles every five years for Canadians 65 and older, rising from 1% of Canadians age 65 to 69%, to 25% of Canadians age 85 or older. The difficulty in understanding it, though, lies in differentiating dementia from typical signs of aging. Occasional forgetfulness can be typical as we age. Things like remembering an event or conversation from a year ago may become harder to do. But that’s distinctly different from failing to remember an event or conversation from the last few days. True, too, for getting a casual acquaintance’s name right, as opposed to recognizing a family member someone sees regularly. Above all, memory loss that persists, gets worse over time or starts to affect someone’s ability to function at home could be a sign of something more serious than a few “senior moments”. The good news is, you can focus on memory and forgetfulness that disrupts daily activity or the easy flow of conversation from anywhere. Maintaining regular calls or video chats even when you can’t be with someone in person can help you notice if someone’s repeating the same questions, getting confused about time, places and people, or struggling to have a fluid conversation. Virtual touchpoints are also a means of understanding whether someone’s personality is changing, or even how motivated they are. Someone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s might start losing interest in activities or hobbies. That can be harder to track in a time like this when many opportunities to interact are at a standstill. But make note of what you’re seeing, see if the shift persists, and raise the red flag if you’re concerned.
    3. Trade notes across the caregiving team.

      Senior care takes a village. Whether you’re supporting a loved one who’s living alone, or operating as part of a more formal care team, you can help seniors live well at home, or in a private residence. Success comes down to communicating openly with everyone who comes into contact with your loved one. Senior care can involve so many stakeholders – from formal in-home caregivers, doctors and nurses to relatives or even neighbours. The best way to ensure someone’s memory is getting the attention it needs is to keep the dialogue open, and the conversation flowing, between everyone involved. If what you’re seeing and hearing is triggering warning bells that something might not be right on the memory front, ask others if they’re noticing similar trends. Share your concerns. Get the comprehensive view, and don’t wait to consult with the doctor if you’re worried. 

    Closing thoughts

    Pandemic aside, don’t let signs of dementia pass you by. In Canada, hundreds of thousands of surgeries have been cancelled since March. More than 54% of Canadian cancer patients, caregivers and folks awaiting diagnosis results have had appointments, tests and treatment postponed or cancelled. This month, the Canadian Medical Association pegged our ability to handle non-COVID health issues as a top priority in the face of a potential second wave. We need to keep overall health top of mind, even as the pandemic persists. For seniors especially, that means continuing to note signs of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Where memory is concerned, taking action is always better than holding off.

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