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Alzheimer’s caregivers struggle through unprecedented times

Dementia is not known to increases risk for COVID-19, but dementia-related behaviors, increased age and common health conditions that often accompany dementia may increase the risk. Photo: alz.org

Texas News Service

AUSTIN, Texas — Caregivers for people who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease are experiencing unprecedented challenges during the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 400,000 Texans are afflicted with Alzheimer’s, some living in memory-care facilities but many more looked after by family or other unpaid caregivers.

Jeffrey Bird, executive director of the Fort Worth-based No arerth Central Texas chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said the rules governing long-term care facilities or nursing homes have been hard on families — especially those who only able to see a spouse or parent through a glass partition.

“Later stages of Alzheimer’s, where the patient may not recognize someone, just the sound of somebody’s voice or a familiar touch is comforting,” he said. “And then, to be without that is troublesome.”

Bird said more than 1 million Texans are looking after family members afflicted by Alzheimer’s – many of whom also juggle their own households and jobs. Texas ranks fourth in the United States for its number of Alzheimer’s cases and second in Alzheimer’s deaths.

Most people with Alzheimer’s are age 50 and older, putting them in a high-risk category for COVID-19. In addition, Alzheimer’s and dementia suppress the immune system, making it critical that caregivers wear masks. If you know a caregiver of someone with Alzheimer’s, Bird said, they probably need extra support right now — even if it can only be by phone or email.

“If you’re home isolated with someone with Alzheimer’s and you’re the caregiver, you’re in advanced age, it’s your spouse — and imagine not having the support that can come to your home, or you be able to go out and get some respite away from the situation,” he said.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers a helpline — open 24 hours, seven day a week, at 800-272-3900 — where specialists and clinicians offer confidential support and information to people living with the disease, caregivers, families and the public.

More information is online at alz.org.

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