Editor's note: for families or caregivers who need support related to Alzheimer's disease, the free Alzheimer's Association helpline is available 24 hours a day. That number is 800-272-3900. Also, the Alzheimer's Association has resources to help here: alz.org/mohelp.
Families are struggling to check in on loved ones in nursing homes as most facilities have closed their doors to the public. One son in the Ozarks is dealing with the distance his mother, who is on hospice in a nursing home in Republic.
Mark Applegate used to visit his mother several times a week at Republic Nursing and Rehabilitation. But it's been four weeks since he's seen or hugged her.
His mother has advanced stage dementia.
For now, Applegate gets 15-minute increments to talk to her over FaceTime video.
He said his mother seems happy, but it's hard to tell through a screen.
“I think she’s understanding the voice sounds familiar,” Applegate said. “She doesn’t actively stare at things much. Even when she does, it’s staring through you a little bit. If you’re there with her you can make eye contact, and kind of bring her back within the realm of the visiting part.”
Her nurses and hospice care workers communicate with him regularly about her condition, too.
But he said the staff don’t really update him about the potential risks his mother could face in the home due to COVID-19.
Applegate said as far as he’s aware, there have been no confirmed cases at the nursing home his mother resides in.
“I don’t hear hardly anything as far as that from them,” Applegate said. “But being completely locked down, I don’t ask a lot of questions either. I think the only people from the outside who can come in there, other than employees, are if it’s an end-of-life situation and it has to be immanent, not just being under hospice or otherwise I could be there every day myself.”
Visitors and routine can be important parts of a dementia patient’s life. When a patient's routine is altered, they can become agitated or stressed.
Applegate said his mom isn’t as schedule-driven as other residents, so she hasn’t gotten as upset by these changes.
“Mom is to the point now that the routine isn’t as important anymore, being as far along as she is,” Applegate said, “but if this would’ve happened this time last year, it would’ve been a nightmare.”
Applegate said he would definitely be concerned about the residents in part of the memory unit who have less advanced dementia. He suspects they may be missing their family members.
And he's trying to prepare himself emotionally for what could happen: since nursing homes will likely be closed to visitors for several more weeks, he said he’s facing the possibility that he might not see his mother again.
Applegate leads a support group for caregivers of Alzheimer's patients, and that group is going online for now.
He knows it's good to have a healthy outlet to help him make sense of the situation. He writes on his blog about his mother’s condition.