Cost of COVID: Isolation is especially difficult for seniors with dementia

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Amyre Makupson

Pace Tyson shows an article he wrote after his father died of early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Too much isolation isn’t good for anyone but when it comes to people with dementia, the effects can be particularly devastating. Shelter in place in orders are putting a lot of unwanted distance between family members who are already mentally miles apart.

“They call it the long good-bye for a reason,” said Pace Tyson, a caregiver for his mother suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. “Every day you start saying goodbye to a piece of that person’s personality or their habits.”

Tyson’s father died from the disease and now, less than a decade later, his mom is battling the illness from a nursing home. “I really took my time with my mom for granted.”

A struggle only made worse by COVID-19.

“It has been 7 months since I’ve got to physically hug my mom,” he said.

7 months that Tyson cannot get back.

“The average length of stay for somebody in assisted living or memory care units is, let’s say 16 to 18 months, we’re already six months into that 16 to 18 months and family members haven’t been able to see their loved one,” said MaryLea Boatwright Quinn, the director of government affairs with the Alzheimer’s Association.

Leaving families who are already pressed for time, with few options.

“We’ve heard just about how people with dementia and other residents are struggling with this isolation from their family members and it’s causing irreparable damage,” said Quinn.

Damage that seems to cause memories to fade quicker.

“Shortly after Mother’s Day, she didn’t know I was her son anymore. Now she knows my face, but she doesn’t know our relationship,” said Tyson/Caregiver.<

“As dementia progresses, there can be times or moments that people forget their family members, forget a name, but we know that they are very aware, often through nonverbal connection,” said Quinn.

Non-verbal connection like a simple smile to help people like Tyson feel better for now.

“My mom, you can see her smile through the window and that, that makes it all worth it,” said Tyson.

Under Governor Brian Kemps latest shelter in place extension, nursing homes are now being asked to develop a plan for re-opening in phases to visitors. Because no two homes are the same, you will need to check with the facility on its approach to allowing family members back inside.