Supporting persons with dementia and their loved ones is challenging in the best of times. Add in a global pandemic and quarantine rules that nursing facilities and assisted living communities had to adopt, and the challenge became exponentially bigger.

Staff were tasked with helping seniors with a cognitive impairment learn to interact with loved ones through computer screens or windows. Families were anxious about their loved ones that they could no longer visit in person. On occasion their anxiety escalated to blaming the facility and/or staff for imposing restrictions on seeing their loved one.

How can we support and educate these families?

Pandemic or not, without regular, in-person contact, a family member may fear that their loved one’s personhood (their history, their interests and values, and their preferences and routines) is being overlooked. Even though the family member may not be able to be there in person, there are additional ways you can help them feel educated and involved.

Virtual Care Plan Meeting

In advance of the Care Plan meeting, send the family member a Life Story Questionnaire to complete so that they have a way to communicate personal habits and, most importantly, their loved one's unique life story. During the Care Plan meeting show the family member how the information they shared is being incorporated into their loved one’s Care Plan to make their loved one the center of care. Click here for a tool you can use to gather information which you can share with families.

Educating Families

Dementia is a chronic, progressive disease. Not being able to visit their loved one as often could make declines seem more pronounced to their family member. Educating families on the progression of the disease is critical to them understanding the changes they may be seeing in their loved one, how it’s attributed to the disease progression versus a sign of decline in quality of care. How can you communicate this without the family feeling you are “covering” for the facility? Support groups geared toward education, resources the family can read at their leisure, and websites with targeted education can make the difference in the family feeling anxious about their loved one’s care to feeling confident in the care you are providing. Below is an overview of our DCS Family Guides we offer. You can use these materials during family meetings or send to families who may find them helpful.

Changing Our Perceptions of People Who Have Dementia
Whether you're a Dementia Capable Care Certified Instructor or a Dementia Capable Care trained care partner, you know the power of focusing less on what someone can’t do and more on what they can do. Through this lens, the guide explains the different stages of dementia and presents the paradigm shift we bring about in training—that seeing people with dementia in a new light can help us give them a sense of purpose and accomplishment—and it can help families and friends feel hope and comfort that their loved one is remaining active and engaged at their best ability. 

Some Realities of Supporting Loved Ones Who Have Dementia
Family caregivers deal with a range of emotions and stressors. This guide reminds them that it’s natural to feel angry, guilty, frustrated, sad, exhausted, and all the emotions they go through in a day. It shares strategies and resources to help family care partners maintain their own physical and emotional health while caring for a loved one from afar.

Improving Our Communication with People Who Have Dementia
This guide discusses the changes in communication that come with dementia and why verbal and nonverbal communication become difficult. It offers simple ways for friends and families to enhance everyday exchanges by listening with their eyes, ears, and hearts. These tips help make visits meaningful, no matter if it’s through a screen, a window, or eventually, in person.

Family members may feel that no one can care for their loved one like they can, yet they are unable to due to their loved one’s higher level of need. This can cause frustration, fear, and anxiety in the family member. One way to calm those fears is to share that your staff have earned Dementia Care Specialist certifications. By continuing to train your staff on a regular basis in Dementia Capable Care, 2nd Edition Training, you are communicating your commitment to providing quality care to the persons with dementia. This will increase your staff’s confidence in caring for persons with dementia which, by extension, can be seen and felt by family during virtual and/or in-person visits. Family members will feel their loved one is in capable hands and that is worth more than gold.

Dementia Care Specialists is here to help you support and educate families during the pandemic and beyond. Click here for information on how to become a Certified Instructor in Dementia Capable Care 2nd Edition Training and view additional resources and support options.

Author Bio:

Sharon Host, OTR/L, Senior Consultant and Global Professional Instructor with Dementia Care Specialists at Crisis Prevention Institute.

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