Aging Well

Aging Well

Dad was just hospitalized; Mom is home with Alzheimers

Posted April 6, 2020 9:27 a.m. EDT
Updated April 6, 2020 3:37 p.m. EDT

Ask Aging Well

Our dad, who is 80 and takes care of mom who has Alzheimers, was just admitted to the hospital with coronavirus. Now that one of us is home with mom, we see just how much work it is to take care of her. We know Dad can no longer do it. What should we do?

This situation is so challenging and also so common: when the caregiver goes down, the whole ship goes down.

The first thing you should do is presume your mom also has coronavirus and try to sequester her in her bedroom and bathroom to the extent possible, while also thoroughly cleaning EVERYTHING. (See the Centers for Disease Control recommendations.)

Second, if possible, an adult child (or multiple family members) will need to move in to provide around-the-clock care for mom (and dad when he is discharged), while also trying not to pick up the virus themselves. Moving in will help illuminate exactly what mom's needs are. If mom is earlier in the disease process, she may not need constant companionship Alternatively, it may reveal that she can't be left alone for a minute. If family cannot provide all the care that is needed, they can enlist the help of a home care agency for some or all of the care hours. When calling agencies, you should inform them of the risk of coronavirus so they can discern whether they have staff willing to undertake the risk and if so, so that they can then prepare their staff with protective equipment and clear instruction. Hiring agency care can become quite expensive; but it may be necessary, even if its short-term while you get a plan in place.

This is an important moment for the extended family to discuss what might be needed in the long-term. This may include more support from nearby adult children, bringing in hiring help and/or enrolling mom in an adult day program (when it is deemed safe for them to reopen), or it may be evident that it is time to look for residential placement in a Memory Care community. I have never met a family who wants to do this. It is often the only option when the level of care needed becomes untenable. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, full time caregivers of a spouse with dementia die at a rate 63 percent higher than people the same age who are not caring for someone with dementia. Unfortunately, while this might be "the moment" when your family is in agreement that placement is needed, communities are not accepting new residents at this time in order to protect those already living in the community.

Dementia Alliance NC has developed an excellent list of resources on its website, including virtual support groups, videos with helpful tips and other important sources of information. They are also available by phone 24/7 at 919-832-3732.

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