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Those with dementia need extra help during COVID-19 outbreak

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

An aged care expert says New Zealanders with dementia or cognitive decline may need additional support as Kiwis battle against the spread of COVID-19.

Miranda Smith, founder of at-home private care specialists Miranda Smith Homecare, is reaching out to the friends, families and carers of those living with dementia with tips and tricks to help the vulnerable stay safe and continue good hygiene practices.

"Around 75% of our clients have some form of cognitive decline," says Miranda, "and that can make understanding what’s happening during an outbreak like this one quite challenging, particularly as the elderly are among the worst affected by this pandemic."

She says obstacles include forgetting to wash hands, not understanding why or how hands are best washed, as well as confusion, distress, and hypersensitivity to water or to touch.

"If you have someone with cognitive decline in your family, be aware that they may not remember the very basics, like what the tap and the soap are for. We also know that many clients with dementia find seeing themselves in the mirror confronting, which can make bathroom visits quite difficult."

But Miranda and her team of homecare workers - who work across Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Taupo, Hawke’s Bay, Waikato, Wellington and Christchurch - are finding practical ways to ensure each client is as prepared as possible.

"We find that taping a large, laminated image of hands being washed to the bathroom mirror is a big help. It can often trigger those in cognitive decline into action. You can also place them on the back of the toilet door, or in other spots around the home."

Miranda Smith Homecare has been supplying laminated hand-washing signs for their carers - who have all completed infection prevention training - to install, and are in constant contact with the team to make sure good hygiene practices, infection prevention and staying well are top priorities.

She says there are some other easy ways to encourage hand-washing in people experiencing cognitive decline:

- Get prepared and have everything ready - soap, towels - in plain sight

- Be involved - wash your hands at the same time

- Find a song they like and sing it as you wash hands

- Use soft fabrics and soap that produces big bubbles

- Make sure the water is lovely and warm

Miranda says homecare is an excellent option for those with dementia, Alzheimer’s or any form of cognitive decline, particularly during worrying times. "You’re able to stay comfortably in your own home, you have the same one, maybe two carers visiting every day rather than a roster of many, and your carer can help with things like ordering the shopping and making sure medication is taken - which all minimises the risk."

"A friendly, familiar face, and continuity of care, can make all the difference."

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