Staying Connected to Loved Ones in Memory Care During COVID-19

Written by: Jennifer Barr, Sr. Print Production Manager

Mom has late-stage Alzheimer’s. This was completely unexpected as no one else in our family has ever been diagnosed with this disease. She had a sharp mind, working daily on The New York Times crossword and often completing it. She flew through Sudoku books, and there was always a jigsaw puzzle in progress on a card table in the living room. She was in charge of the family finances and was the level-headed one of my parents. She loved watching the Chiefs and the Royals when she didn’t have her nose in a book, usually a mystery or a romance novel. She had beautiful handwriting and always spoke with proper grammar.

Prior to quarantine, I visited her weekly at the senior living community she called home for about five years. Over time, the visits got shorter and shorter as she lost her ability to verbalize. Some days she’d say words, but often it was only gibberish. Some days there was no sound or acknowledgment, and all I could do was hope she knew I was there and felt comforted by my presence.

With COVID-19 putting seniors at higher risk, communities quickly restricted access to visitors. At my mom’s health care place, they actually stopped allowing visitors on March 10 — a full week before the stay-at-home directive was given in our area. I’m grateful for the CEO’s advance perception of the situation. Now she emails updates to residents’ families every week, and so far, no cases of the disease have appeared in any seniors living there.

It’s been great seeing posts online of family members talking on the phone through the window with their grandparents, or watching Matthew McConaughey call bingo numbers for a community. Unfortunately, for those with advanced Alzheimer’s like my mom, a phone call or even a wave through a window isn’t something that can always be understood. It requires a little more creative thinking for ways to keep in touch and alleviate anxiety for me during this time, and hopefully for my mom. Here are some suggestions based on my experience.

  1. Stay in the loop.
    As I mentioned, the CEO at the community has been sending weekly updates, but I’ve also messaged her individually to find out specifics about Mom. If you’re not hearing updates, reach out.
  2. Send flowers or special gifts.
    If the community approves, ask if you can ship or drop off something for your loved one to help them know that you’re thinking about them. The staff may have special protocols regarding this, so be sure to ask how to go about it.
  3. Email them.
    Ask if a staff member would be able to read an email message to your loved one. This has been my main method of communication with my mom. I hope she understands what is being read to her and that I’d be there in person if I could be.

Ultimately, give yourself grace. It’s easy to feel guilty for not being able to do much, but know you’re doing the best thing for your loved one by keeping your distance right now. I’m praying Mom stays healthy and I’ll be able to see her this summer.