Written By: Rudi Lamy, MLS, MAS, Consultant to the Peter Lamy Center on Drug Therapy and Aging
In my blog post “Lamy Center Caregiver Connection: Dementia and Personal Hygiene (Theirs and Ours),” I mentioned that we as caregivers must remember that, in addition to ourselves, we are responsible for all of the personal hygiene needs of the loved ones for whom we care. In a sermon delivered in 1778, theologian and evangelist John Wesley coined the modern version of the adage “cleanliness is next to godliness.” He wasn’t wrong.
Cleanliness is one of those small tasks that we as caregivers perform daily that is critical to the good long-term home care of patients with dementia. Good personal hygiene — ours and theirs — can even be thought of as a preventative measure that we can take to help ward off some of the complications associated with this chronic illness.
Given the current COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic affecting numerous countries around the world, including the U.S., I thought now would be a good time to reexamine the importance of good personal hygiene in combating infections that may only cause mild symptoms for some patients, but can be incredibly devastating for others, including our loved ones with dementia and other underlying health conditions.
Infection Control: Playing Our Part to Keep Loved Ones Healthy
As a result of the new health crisis stemming from the spread of the coronavirus, we as caregivers are now in a situation in which personal hygiene can have a serious impact on how our loved ones with dementia fare over the next days, weeks, and possibly months.
Caregivers concerned about the steps they can take to help reduce the risk of them and their loved ones being impacted by the coronavirus might find the following resources helpful:
- Alzheimer’s Association Website: Effects of Flu on the Dementia Patient
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Website: Guidelines for Preventing the Spread of COVID-19
- Johns Hopkins Health Website: Coronavirus Disease vs. The Flu
- National Institutes of Health (NIH) Website: Information about the Coronavirus
- The John A. Hartford Foundation Website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Resources for Older Adults, Family Caregivers, and Health Care Providers
If you are a faculty member, staff member, or student or trainee at the School of Pharmacy, where the Peter Lamy Center on Drug Therapy and Aging is housed, you can find relevant information about the coronavirus on the School’s website at https://www.pharmacy.umaryland.edu/covid19/.
Maintaining a Positive Outlook for Your Loved Ones
Earlier this year, I placed my wife in an assisted living facility with a memory care unit. At the start of the coronavirus outbreak, a sign was posted on the facility’s entrance doors detailing requirements from the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure greater safety of the residents and staff. I had to sign in at every visit, giving the facility my name, indicating if I had been exposed to the virus, and informing them if I had a fever or had been traveling. It was just one more tactic we had to take to protect those we love.
Now that the outbreak has been elevated to a pandemic, the facility has issued letters to all potential visitors asking them not to visit the facility to see their loved ones at this time. While it is difficult to not be able to visit my wife, especially since she is a new resident in the facility, I understand the importance of this measure in helping to ensure the health and safety of all of the residents at the facility.
That said, my problem with COVID-19 doesn’t end with my wife. My mother and brother are both at home, self-quarantined. My mom is 96 and frail, which puts her at high risk for contracting the virus. My granddaughter also has two children, a four-year-old and a four-month-old. I am a nexus for cross-infection. I cannot visit one without endangering the others, so I do not visit at all. Phone calls, traditional mail, and text messages help me keep in touch without an actual touch.
It’s lonely, boring, and tedious, but also necessary.
At a presidential news briefing on Feb. 26, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, estimated that a vaccine for COVID-19 was at least a year away. More recently, a news release published on March 16 by the NIH indicates that a Phase 1 Clinical Trial for a potential vaccine is now underway in the Seattle area.
However, even though there is no vaccine yet, it is important that you as a caregiver to a patient with dementia continue to do everything you are already doing to keep yourself, your loved one, and your environment clean. All of the measures that you would take to help prevent the spread the flu can be used to help prevent the spread of the current coronavirus.
Until next time, be safe, be careful, and be clean.