As we begin to engage in family visits and get-togethers again, it can bring a certain degree of anxiety to many of us, especially our older relatives who may remain skeptical about vaccines, health protocols and just getting back to socializing again. The CDC has issued new guidelines loosening the protocols for those who have been vaccinated. And, yet, so many of us still find ourselves hesitating to go back to a pre-pandemic “normal”.
If you’re one of those people, you’re not alone! An American Psychological Association survey found that 49% of those surveyed reported feeling uncomfortable about the return to in-person interactions. That was also true for 48% of those who received the vaccine! So the struggle is real.
Navigating through a post-pandemic world can be especially challenging for those living with dementia. Their anxiety levels can be raised under normal circumstances. So, the act of getting back to pre-pandemic activities can trigger confusion and raise stress levels. There have even been reported cases of PTSD among otherwise sociable adults for whom the enforced isolation during the pandemic created unanticipated bouts of depression.
If you are a family caregiver for a loved one living with dementia, your journey back to normalcy can feel like a balancing act between meeting your own comfort levels and those of your loved one. Here are some tips to hopefully make it a bit easier on both of you:
- Be patient. Above all, don’t scold. There is a tendency, especially with aging loved ones who are cognitively impaired, to grow impatient when they are slower to embrace change. And this is a big one! Try to resist the temptation to scold them with phrases like, “Mom, it’s okay now. We’re all vaccinated. Come on, stop worrying”. Take it slow. A little bit of patience now will go a long way.
- Keep focused on the present. This goes for both of you. Worrying about an upcoming holiday or family event can be stressful for those of us who have not been used to group gatherings. For that reason, it’s a good idea not to build up anticipation too far in advance. The more present-day moments that your loved one can experience in a safe, supportive environment, the less fearful they will be to venture out and socialize when that day arrives.
- Don’t be afraid to each out for help. You are not alone if you are one of many who feel as if you and/or your loved ones are still suffering from quarantine anxiety. Reaching out for help now will help you more quickly regain your confidence. It will also help you to be of better assistance to those around you.
Above all, give yourself and your loved one the time and space to transition at a pace that is comfortable and non-threatening. Remember, this pandemic had many of us, especially older adults, shut off from the outside world for well over a year. We can’t expect to bounce back in just a few weeks, or even a few months.
We are all looking forward to a summer filled with family, friends and fun. Be safe, respect others’ feelings, choices and emotions and be patient, with your loved ones and with yourself. Better days are ahead.
(The top image is of residents of Grace Point Place Memory Care in Oak Lawn, Illinois, enjoying some sun and conversation together!)