Patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are facing their own unique challenges during this pandemic — and so are their caregivers.
So says Dr. David Weisman, a neurologist based outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He referenced a recent New York Times report about an enraged woman who, citing social distancing violations, shoved an 86-year-old woman suffering from dementia, who later died.
“I read that and I thought that’s a COVID-19-related death, because she was not allowed to be with her family,” Weisman said during a recent interview.
Weisman specializes in treating Alzheimer’s disease and he says that caregivers play an integral role in managing this patient population. He spends a lot of his clinical time talking to them.
“It’s sad. They call it the ‘gray veil,’ where you don’t engage the person with Alzheimer’s disease, you only talk to the caregiver.”
COVID-19 and the accompanying shutdowns and stay-at-home orders are sources of stress for many of us, including those who care for people with Alzheimer’s. That increased anxiety gets passed on to patients.
“They don’t know what’s going on and the caregiver is coming at them with a lot of tension. We refer to these things as the neuropsychiatric aspects of the disease,” Weisman says. “Part of the disease is getting a little irritable, fraught, anxious, depressed. I’m telling the caregivers, ‘Mind yourself because whatever you come to them with will be mirrored unintentionally. So, go for a walk, go outside.’”
Weisman is having these conversations almost exclusively via telemedicine these days. It’s a pale imitation of in-person visits.
“There is so much that is missing. I get probably 50 percent of the information I would normally get in the office,” he says.
There is also much less candor with other people listening in on the call. This, of course, only applies to the patients and caregivers he is actually able to see. Many don’t have the technology or wherewithal to participate in telemedicine.
“I’m probably seeing 10 to 20 percent of my caseload because all my people, even the cognitively normal caregivers, can’t use FaceTime,” Weisman says. “The people I am seeing are pretty smart and can figure this stuff out or have enough young people in their lives to figure it out for them. I am sure socioeconomic aspects are playing a huge role in what I am not seeing.”
To say the least, Weisman isn’t happy with what is happening to his patient population during this pandemic. He fears that temporary solutions to the COVID-19 crisis are going to become a permanent problem.
Let’s not forget, he adds, that Alzheimer’s too is a major societal affliction.
Special thanks to David Weisman, MD, director of the Clinical Trial Center at Abington Neurological Associates. Dr. Weisman devotes his research towards advancing new therapies in Alzheimer’s disease and spends his clinical time caring for those with memory and cognitive problems. You can learn more about him on his provider page.