Q: My elderly mother who has Alzheimer’s disease lives about 12 hours away from me. In the past I would travel down to visit her three to four times a year. Due to the pandemic I wasn’t able to be with her on Mother’s Day. Under normal conditions I would never have missed being celebrating her special day. I am not sure how much she understands about the virus and really don’t know what to say to her. The last time we spoke she wanted to know when I would be driving down to stay for awhile. She has care in the home and the workers are trained in what precautions to take so I don’t have to worry about her safety. Do you have any advice on how I handle this situation?
A: Depending upon the level of your mother’s cognition she may not be able to grasp the magnitude of our current situation. You have to make the decision whether or not it is worth sharing details which could potentially create anxiety for her.
Don’t over explain how the virus is impacting the entire nation. Talk with her in terms she might understand avoiding words like pandemic or COVID-19. Simple short sentences work best.
You might just tell her there is a flu going on and people are asked to stay at home for awhile. If she still watches television, advise the workers in the home to refrain from news stories reporting on the number of cases and deaths occurring due to the virus.
It is believed as the mental abilities of someone with Alzheimer’s disease diminishes their ability to read emotions and sensitivity increases. Your mother may indeed react to your stress level if you are worried, anxious or feeling guilty.
Do your best to sound upbeat whenever you speak with her on the phone. Bring up topics she can relate to, experiences she can still remember. Talk about mutual interests, whether that be a new recipe you have tried or how her garden is looking now that spring has arrived.
Frequently write letters to her and send her cards to let her know you are thinking of her. If she or the workers have the technology think about a video chat or send her pictures of yourself.
Above all else if she appears worried during any contact with her assure her you both will be safe!
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Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services of Merrimack Valley and North Shore.