STATE COLLEGE, Pa (WTAJ)– The Alzheimer’s Association references dementia as the general term for a decline in mental ability. This condition affects over 6 million Americans, with 280,000 coming from the state.

The pandemic has affected many aspects of patients living with dementia on multiple levels. For example, patients are isolated, which doesn’t allow them to maintain social interaction. Then, the shortage of caregivers in care facilities leads to possibly not receiving proper treatment.

All these factors have worsened the conditions of dementia patients. Certified Dementia Practitioner Holly Reigh has been working with dementia patients for 12 years and said patients are on the decline.

“Patients have declined,” Reigh said. “They are no longer walking. No longer able to feed themselves, how to dress because they lost that socialization part, and the part that kept them going.”

Another person affected by this is caregivers, which could be family members, friends, or neighbors. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 11 million caregivers are friends or family members, with 500,000 coming from PA.

Reigh notes that the pandemic added additional pressure and stress for caregivers. Factors include the multiple variants of the pandemic and the behavioral changes within a loved one.

“Every day is a day of challenge, and that’s where the anxiety and stress come from the caregiver,” Reigh said. “There’s so much uncertainty. There’s so much unknown.”

Reigh’s advice is to be adaptable and creative to help loved one’s mind stay active. Some methods Reigh suggest include listening to music, having small game nights at home, or doing puzzles.

However, she noted that there’s no correct answer to how to keep the mind active. It’s just a matter of catering what’s best for your loved one.

“You really just have to get creative and know what your loved one needs, and what they like and do that,” Reigh said. “There’s no cookie-cutter. There’s no A-B-C. It’s very individualized.”

If one of those methods involves taking walks, Reigh said it’s best to have your loved one bundled up in dry, loose-fitting layers. It also means walking slowly and cautiously as some spots can be slippery.

Reigh said that many caregivers have difficulty finding time to breathe or have other support around them. The Alzheimer’s Association holds multiple support groups, and there’s a hotline to call for further guidance and assistance.

One positive thing about being virtual is that caregivers can attend support group sessions nationwide. Reigh wants to remind caregivers that it’s okay to have a breather and not worry about the housework and that you’re not alone.

“Just be kind to yourself,” Reigh said. “Do the best that you can, and it’s okay. It’s okay if the dishes stay in the sink. It’s okay if your loved one doesn’t get a shower. It’s okay that the floor is dirty.”

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