During the COVID-19 pandemic, caregivers for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia have faced myriad challenges. Virtual doctor appointments, a lack of support for the caregiver and basic day-to-day tasks were just a few of the difficulties Pat Simmons faced while she cared for her husband, Kenneth, this past year. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2016 and Pat became involved in the Oklahoma Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association at that time. In 2020, Kenneth’s condition worsened, and Pat struggled to care for him on her own.
“Most of the time you are alone trying to help the patient,” Pat says. “His medications were not helping, and some were causing (aggressive) reactions.”
More than 11 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The emotional toll this undertaking has on caregivers, especially during a global pandemic, is overwhelming.
In February 2021, after six months of tears and stress, Pat’s sister suggested she reach out to the OCAA for help and support. Following numerous discussions and health evaluations through the nonprofit, Kenneth was admitted to a caregiving facility. At that time, COVID-19 restrictions were still in place, so Pat and her son would sit outside Kenneth’s room window if they wanted to visit. Even that became challenging with the cold weather, particularly during February’s ice storm.
“He thought we left him,” Pat says. “He was depressed and confused.”
Today, masks and sign-ins remain mandatory for visitors, but some restrictions have been lifted at Kenneth’s facility. Things are much better now that she and her son are able to visit indoors and give Kenneth hugs, which Pat says makes him feel more comfortable.
Now that Kenneth is doing so well, Pat has found solace through an OCAA support group that meets virtually each Thursday; most members are women.
“A lot of women experience this,” she says. “I wish I’d known about OCAA in 2016. I just don’t know where I would be without the support.”