Isolation brings more challenges for Alzheimer's and dementia patients as pandemic continues

A behavioral health nurse explains why providing mental and social stimulation for patients is especially important during this time.

ACToday

Monday, June 29, 2020

As we recognize June as Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, Sta-Home Health and Hospice want to remind our communities that seniors with cognitive challenges are severely impacted by living a more isolated life, and need support from not only healthcare professionals but family and friends. 

Limited interactions with loved ones and the outside world can have negative impacts on our aging population, isolation and loneliness can lead to depression and possibly exacerbate a patient's condition. 

"Loss of Independence due to these diseases is particularly hard for men, I find. Many of my patients have had to end very long, successful careers due to these diseases and it is a massive hit to their self-esteem," said Carmen Poindexter, Behavioral Health Case Manager. 

She says she's often the only visitor some patients see weekly.

"I think the pandemic has affected everyone differently, but ultimately patients who were largely already feeling alone are struggling more than ever," Poindexter continued. "I've noticed with one particular patient, her anxiety has recently been at an all-time high, even the smallest things can get her extremely frazzled."

Behavioral health nurses work on ways they can help bring down a patient's anxiety by implementing relaxation techniques or assist them with exercises. The more stimulation they have in a safe environment, the better the outcome, whether that's reading, writing, or simply having a conversation. 

"I've been working with her on recognizing her anxiety the minute she starts to feel it for her to stop and take a moment to regroup," said Poindexter. "This particular patient requested a middle school grammar or math book, and I'm working to make that happen, but in the meantime, I have printed her exercises and vocabulary lists to give her some stimulation when she is in her room."

Poindexter says it's all about addressing the person's needs from a holistic approach and understanding the kind of risks they could be facing, including self-harm. 

According to physicians at the Royal College of General Practitioners, "mental health conditions associated with older people who self-harm included depression, alcohol use disorder, delirium, anxiety disorder, and very late-onset schizophrenia. One-third of the patients had minor cognitive impairment; another third had dementia symptoms."  Their findings state that 12% of older adults who self-harmed had a record of being referred to secondary care services.  

"I give families, caregivers, and patients information about risks not to instill fear at, but to make sure people are aware of the reality of how hard times like these affect some people," explains Poindexter. "I even find that many patients are relieved to hear me say that if they have any thoughts whatsoever of harming themselves, they should notify myself or a caregiver immediately."

Poindexter says their safety, physically and mentally is important to her. She says patients just want someone to listen to them and let them share a part of their story.

"It is my honor to learn about them and validate them, and their place in this world," she said.