Social distancing is for the greater good. However, it does impose some challenges in keeping up with physical and mental health in older adults with cognitive impairments who may be isolated at home. With the Covid-19 Pandemic in full swing, times sure have been different. Between different rulings and laws in states, most have some order to continue social distancing to continue to improve infection rates around the country.
The World Health Organization denotes that modifiable risk factors for developing dementia include social isolation and cognitive inactivity. To give a review, a modifiable risk factor is a risk factor that can be addressed by a change of habits. It is important to consider the difference between delirium, dementia, and depression. These are typically confused with each other in older adults.
What is delirium?
Delirium is associated with illness and happens with rapid onset. Attention and orientation is impaired. Meaning that person may not be able to say that they know where they are. Or, they cannot stay focused on tasks at hand. They may be hyper or hypo-active and speech is typically affected with either slurred speech or incomprehensible. The person may also have hallucinations and delusions.
Prevention of delirium
Keep active and mobile!
What is depression?
Depression is a disturbance of moods that include sadness, crying, excessive fatigue, and weight loss. Depression is not usually associated with memory loss, and speech is normal.
Keep active and mobile!
What is dementia?
Dementia is characterized as a general decline in cognitive abilities and can include delusions and changes in personality. Memory loss is a prominent sign. Also the patient may have normal speech but that can progressively decline. Patients will also demonstrate decreased executive function, meaning the ability to make judgment, choices, or solve problems.
Physical activity has demonstrated slow progression of cognitive decline.
Keeping active and mobile helps with important components in reducing delirium, dementia and depression in the older adults. But social distancing may have added some new challenges. If at home with an older adult with cognitive deficits, here are some tips to help them keep active safely at home:
Engage in activities that they use to do as a young adult.
Their favorite type of music that helps link them to their own worlds.
There are videos that have seated exercises targeted to the older adult that can be performed alongside them to make them feel engaged in a group activity. (Check out our Facebook page for chair exercise videos with our Doctor of Physical Therapy, Dr. Kimberly Sanchez! Or our Youtube channel.)
Use different techniques to incorporate them.
Ball toss while seated
Dancing that includes hand holding while seated
Incorporate as much physical activity as they can manage. Some activity is better than none.
Set up routines
Stick to similar routines as much as possible to make them feel more familiarized with what is going on around them.
Let them choose what they want to prioritize to give them as much independence as possible.
Build in new activities into their routine.
Add activities after naps, before lunch, etc.
Incorporate a hand washing routine to increase frequency throughout the day.
Hydration, Nutrition, and Medications
Ensure that the person is maintaining adequate nutrition and hydration. This will help prevent any acute illnesses that may impact their independence.
If they are taking any medications for any health conditions, make sure to keep following physician recommendations.
Encourage new ways of visiting.
Send cards or letters with photos.
Maintaining physical and mental health can be challenging. However, with these tips and talking with a physician it can become easier!