Dementia caregiving and COVID-19: Make a meaningful connection through activities

Photo provided by the Alzheimer’s Association.

SYRACUSE — Social distancing guidelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic have presented challenges to all Americans, but they present added stress to the one million family members and friends in New York state who provide care for someone living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia.

Nearly six in 10 dementia caregivers receive assistance from relatives, friends or service providers, but actions like New York PAUSE and county shelter-in-place orders have prevented those individuals from visiting. Without relief, caregivers find themselves on duty around the clock with no one else to step in.

“Dementia caregiving is a full-time job without the pandemic at hand,” said Catherine James, chief executive officer for the Alzheimer’s Association, Central New York Chapter. “What the COVID-19 crisis has revealed is how caregiving truly is a cooperative activity, with spouses, siblings, nieces, nephews, friends and children and grandchildren each taking a role.”

James said even though people are confined to their homes, it is important not to get caught in the rut of sitting around watching television or taking extended naps.

“Keeping the mind active is important now more than ever,” she said. “Anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation are common for people living with dementia and their caregivers. The practice of social distancing increases that confinement and can amplify those conditions.”

The Alzheimer’s Association suggests planning simple activities and establishing a daily routine. Activities provide purpose and meaning, James says, while providing a means to strengthen the bond between the person living with the disease and the caregiver.

“Activities do not need to be elaborate. It can be a simple game of cards or a jigsaw puzzle, or something routine like setting the table or folding clothes. The important part for caregivers to remember is to be patient and provide guidance. This is an opportunity to do something together and take your mind off of what’s happening in the world around you,” James said.

Structuring the activity to the abilities and interests of the person living with the disease is also important, said Kristen Campbell, director of programs and services for the Chapter.

“If the person didn’t enjoy doing crossword puzzles before, they may not look forward to doing them now,” she said. “And if they did, maybe start with easier puzzles before tackling The New York Times Sunday puzzle.”

James and Campbell both said the most important part of any activity is the sense of accomplishment; the person completing the task should walk away feeling as if they were helpful.

“There are plenty of meaningful tasks that can be easily graded to ability level,” Campbell said. “Look around your home for things that could use an extra set of hands, like folding towels, dry dusting or brushing a pet. Contributing to the household operation can provide that sense of a job well done.”

James added, “Exploring things together, like virtual tours of museums and zoos, can provide a level of connection centered around discovery. You two saw such and such together. It’s the togetherness that is the most important part.”

The Alzheimer’s Association suggests these timely activities that can be done together. For more ideas, visit or call 800-272-3900.

• Attend a virtual exhibit offered by one of our local cultural attractions.

• The Cornell University Lab of Ornithology offers a look at birds on their sanctuary at

• The Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park is doing a daily showcase of animals on its Facebook page:

• The Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse (, Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown (, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown ( and Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute in Utica ( have virtual tours of their exhibits online.

• The Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse ( offers virtual tours of their exhibits.

• Musicians from Symphoria continue to play from afar and you can enjoy their music at

• Headspace is offering free meditation and relaxation programs to New York residents at

• Connect with family and friends through FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts, or other video communication platforms.

• Complete the 2020 census. It takes less than 10 minutes. Visit or call 844-330-2020.

• YMCA of Central New York has simple wellness and exercise guides for older adults at its website,

• For the sports fan missing baseball’s opening day, the MLB Network, YES Network (Yankees) and Sportsnet New York (Mets) are showing classic games each day. NBA TV and the NFL Network are showing classic games from their respective leagues. Check your local listings.

• Listen to your favorite music. Music has calming qualities and just having it on in the background can improve mood.

• Reminiscing activities can incorporate many things around the home. Look through old photo albums and watch home movies. Sort through family records and genealogies. If you haven’t started a family history, use the time to record stories and memories using the camera or voice recorder on your mobile device.

• Cook or bake together using favorite recipes. Baking is a great way to get someone with memory loss involved in the process. Choose a recipe like making bread or cookies where you can roll up your sleeves, wash your hands and work with the dough.

• Read aloud to each other: choose favorite poems or short stories.

• Do tabletop activities such as puzzles, LEGOS, folding laundry, or creating a sensory table with items with different colors, textures, or scents.

• Do crafts such as coloring, painting, molding dough, knitting, making jewelry with beading, using stamps, or nature printing with leaves or flowers from your home.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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