How to keep loved ones with dementia out of hospital during the pandemic
Faced with the thought of someone we love spending weeks or even months in hospital, away from family and friends, many of us are taking every necessary step to protect loved ones with dementia from Covid-19 and subsequent hospitalisation.
It’s an uncertain time: resources are stretched and we know that the threat of Covid-19 is much greater among vulnerable people, which is why we’re making every effort as a nation to protect our elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.
Covid-19 isn’t the only cause of hospitalisation among people with dementia, though. In fact, falls are the main reason for hospital admissions among people with dementia, followed by urine infections and pneumonia.
Once in hospital, there are other risks to someone with dementia, who may struggle with their new environment, unfamiliar faces and a change in routine – alongside the threat of virus transmission and infections.
Reducing the likelihood of hospitalisation
While our minds are concentrated on reducing the spread of Covid-19 and protecting vulnerable loved ones, it’s perhaps more important than ever to take preventative measures against the main causes of hospitalisation in people with dementia: falls, UTIs and pneumonia.
The experts at Ambiance Care have a unique knowledge base built up over years of working in health and social care and through first-hand experience looking after people with dementia. Here, we’re going to share some of this knowledge and advice with you, to help reduce the likelihood of someone you love with dementia being hospitalised during the pandemic.
Preventing dementia-related falls
People living with dementia have a much higher risk of falling because they often have difficulty seeing where they are going or judging distances. Individuals with dementia may also struggle to assess risks and anticipate steps or other trip hazards.
Fall prevention focuses on three main areas: the person, the care environment, and the care routine.
To help someone with dementia reduce their risk of falling, think about feet – in particular good foot health. Long toenails and foot sores are not just painful, they impair a person’s ability to walk and make falls more likely. Regular podiatry appointments can help with maintenance of foot health; these can be organised by their GP.
Also think about vision and hearing. If the individual wears glasses, these need to be accessible and worn when the person gets up to walk. Likewise, if they wear a hearing aid, ensure that it’s in the ear, switched on and tuned to the right level for them to be able to hear.
Other factors to consider around the person include:
Clothing – Being too hot or too hot can increase a person’s risk of falling. Try to strike a balance between warmth and freedom of movement. Opt for soft, breathable material that doesn’t restrict movement of the body.
Footwear – The wrong footwear can significantly increase a person’s risk of falling. The best type of footwear is a closed shoe-style slipper that fully closes around the foot with a non-slip sole.
Their health – Monitor blood pressure and changes in hearing and vision. Make sure that the person is eating and drinking enough, and that any pain they may be experiencing is treated.
Medication – Be aware that some medications can cause unsteadiness and therefore increase the risk of falling.
A person’s living arrangements can also affect the likelihood of falls, so consider the following points, too.
Environment – Declutter, remove loose rugs and mats and secure tangled electric cables to make them more secure. Tape down loose edges of carpets.
Equipment – Having the right equipment can reduce the risks of falls. Equipment such as grab rails, raised toilets seats and pendants can all help.
Lighting – Vision deteriorates with age, so ensure areas are as well-lit as possible.
Reducing dementia-related UTIs
There can be various causes of UTIs: a weakened immune system, the presence of a urinary catheter, poor hygiene, diabetes and urinary retention, for example. A sudden change in behaviour can signal the onset of a urinary tract infection in individuals who might not be able to express their discomfort. It may not be possible to prevent all UTIs but there are ways to reduce the risks:
- Maintaining good personal hygiene and avoiding perfumed soap or shower gel
- Using the correct products when assisting a person in freshening up after each episode of incontinence
- Regular prompting to use the toilet if they aren’t going often
- Making sure the person can find the toilet and that it’s well-lit
- Installing the right equipment to meet their needs
- If the toilet is far away, having a commode to hand for when energy levels are low
- Managing eating and drinking – constipation and dehydration are significant factors in developing a UTI
- Ensuring the person eats a high fibre diet and regularly opens their bowels
Reducing dementia-related pneumonia
As a person becomes older and their dementia progresses, it may not be possible to prevent them from developing pneumonia. However, there are some practical steps to take in reducing the risk of pneumonia onset, including:
- Maintaining good oral hygiene
- Eating a balanced diet to boost the immune system
- Staying well hydrated
- Avoiding people with colds and the flu
Swallowing problems are also an issue among people with dementia; they can lead to aspirated pneumonia. It’s important that people with dementia maintain a good seating position when eating and participate in regular activities to improve digestion, like walking.
A referral to a speech and language therapist can also help – these professionals can provide guidance on swallowing to avoid inhalation of food and drink, and it’s also worth finding out if the person is eligible for a seasonal flu/ pneumonia vaccine.
For more advice and information on keeping loved ones with dementia safe at home during the pandemic and beyond, get in touch with us anytime – we’re here to help. Call our Greater Manchester headquarters on 0161 537 0983 or send an email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.