The Alzheimer Society in Fredericton says there are around 15,000 New Brunswickers with Alzheimer’s and they have experienced heightened levels of social isolation due to COVID-19, which is leading to faster progression of the disease.
The Society explains that Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that destroys brain cells, causing thinking ability and memory to deteriorate over time.
Alzheimer’s disease is also the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 per cent of all diagnoses.
For Kevin Hughes, who has early-onset Alzheimer’s, his daily routines have been turned upside down due to COVID-19, but the companionship he has with his dog Georgia has kept his spirits up during a time of isolation.
“I couldn’t do it without her. She’s the one that gets me out of bed, and if she wasn’t here I wouldn’t go outside as much. I wouldn’t have someone to talk to. So I feel blessed in that way,” said Hughes.
His wife and caregiver, Andrea, says the disease hitting Kevin in the prime of their lives was a hard pill to swallow.
“This particular disease, it’s a roller-coaster,” she says.
Since November 2019, support group meetings with the Alzheimer’s Society have connected her with others in the same situation.
“When COVID-19 hit, three months later it was Zoom meetings after that, which was still great but you lost that energy level in the room,” Andrea said.
The move online, for those with loved ones in long-term care, meant virtual visits. This also led to confusion and loneliness, especially in their final moments.
“Touch is so important. Their only choice was to either use technology and potentially have a very upsetting visit or to not do those types of communications and keep up to date with phone calls with staff,” said Chandra MacBean, executive director of the Alzheimer Society.
January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, and the Alzheimer Society of New Brunswick said the theme is reaching out for support, and how as an organization they’ll continue to provide virtual meetings for those who need them.
“It’s amazing how it does help, and I probably would have been the first person to say, ‘No, that’s not for me,’ but it was nice to have a place to go to,” said Andrea.
MacBean said the sooner people reach out and get support, the better they’ll be able to plan for what they need, especially in times of crisis.
Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia reporting increased demand for online support
Between March and December 2020, the Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia said it saw a consistent demand for online programs.
According to the society, calls to the free, confidential counselling support line were up 20 per cent. Over 30 online public education sessions were also held in three languages.
“Throughout the pandemic, we were committed to remaining fully operational, and being there to support our clients,” said Linda Bird, director of programs and services at the Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia.
“We moved more resources to our telephone support line, and as in-person programming wasn’t possible, we adapted our education and support programs and moved them online. As we enter a new year and the pandemic continues, we continue to be here for Nova Scotians on the dementia journey.”