COVID-19 keeps families of Alzheimer's patient from visiting

Staying safe during the COVID-19 crisis means staying home and away from others but that could also be hurtful for Alzheimer’s patients.

This pandemic is certainly unprecedented and for those who are battling Alzheimer's this odd time is making an already life-altering illness far more difficult to manage.  

“We have a saying in our family 'We never stop. We never quit. We never fail. Failure is not an option. In God we trust' and that’s where you have to place your faith in times like this. You turn it over to God,” explains John Sachs whose wife Janice was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 10 years ago.

When they married more than 50 years ago the Sachs had no way of knowing all these years later Mrs. Sachs would not only be in the fight of her life against Alzheimer's but also caught in a worldwide health crisis. "Within the last, I think it’s been what three years since Harvey hit, she has really went downhill,” says John Sachs.

Now yet another obstacle for her as he tries to keep his wife safe from COVID-19. "If she was to get it, with her other issues it would really be a traumatic experience for her, and God only knows how that would turn out," Sachs said.

The Sachs’ have two adult kids who are married and 7 grandkids.

"So when everybody gets together it’s really a crowd and we’ve limited that," Sachs said.

That crowd of loved ones can’t see the 76-year-old right now for her own safety but try explaining to a mother why she can’t see her only daughter.

"Kelly and Janice were extremely close when Kelly was growing up and she asks for Kelly a lot," Sachs said. "Kelly has a little one Olivia who’s 11. Olivia and Janice were extremely close and Janice asks for Kelly and Olivia a lot. That’s been hard".  

Dr. Leanne Burnett with Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital says this time of isolation is devastating for many people battling Alzheimer’s.

“They haven’t been able to see their families nearly as much and that’s very hard psychologically and mentally," Dr. Burnett said.

Dr. Burnett says even if the person doesn’t necessarily remember loved ones, this period of isolation can be stressful for them because their brain is missing the stimulation from visitors.

“Which isn’t good for the brain for any of us but particularly an Alzheimer’s patient," Dr. Burnett said.

“It is heartbreaking. Kelly and I both quite often shed a tear. When I talk about it like right now I get emotional,” adds Mr. Sachs.  

“When they go for six months, possibly or longer without seeing someone or really connecting with them they may have more difficulty recognizing their loved one and becoming attuned to them,” explains Dr. Burnett so she suggests safely getting creative with visits. "If you have a large outside patio, for instance, you might have three or four family members over and set the chairs six feet apart”.     

“We have a lot of trust in God and that’s how we get through those moments. Crazy disease and it’s a crazy time we’re going through. It’s always comforting to know God is always there with us. This is always my prayer for her that God will bring her peace and comfort and don’t let her suffer.  That’s what I hope for and pray for every night,” says Mr. Sachs. 

The Sachs got together Sunday for Mother’s Day and Mr. Sachs says it was far more special than you might imagine.

Dr. Burnett says its important to find other means of brain stimulation such as crossword puzzles and she says don’t force things such as video calls if the person with Alzheimer's really doesn’t want to do it.

“It’s certainly worth a try. If your loved one is able to recognize you and interact to some extent I think it could be very beneficial," Dr. Burnett said, "If, however, they can’t really maintain attention to the monitor and they don’t seem to recognize you it actually may be more distressing. If they’re trying to get their loved one to engage in an activity that they’re very resistant to, to the point where it becomes unpleasant or distressing then it’s probably not worth doing.”

“I just want others who may be on this same journey to know how we’re getting through it," Sachs said, "I just want to help others. I want them to know to have a lot of patients with the person who has Alzheimer’s, lean on your family for support, and have faith in God."