November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and National Memory Screening Month.
There are currently over 95,000 people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias (ADRD) in South Carolina. According to the SC Alzheimer’s Disease Registry, 25% of the ADRD population in the state resides in a long-term care facility including nursing homes and assisted living facilities. DHEC regulates 207 facilities that offer memory care services.
A we close in on the end of 2020, it’s difficult to reflect on the year and not think of the effect COVID-19 has had on our loved ones in long term care facilities (LTCFs). Residents and patients experiencing ADRD are highly susceptible to mental anguish and confusion due to the necessary changes being made at facilities for infection control and prevention. Changes to routines, use of unfamiliar personal protective equipment (PPE), and disruption to daily schedules can lead to fear and anxiety resulting in increased depression and worsening behavioral changes, such as agitation, aggression, and wandering.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends specific guidance to facilities for infection control and prevention, but also recommends keeping environments and routines as consistent as possible for patients and residents suffering from ADRD.
Those diagnosed with ADRD may not be able to communicate that they are feeling ill. It is important to be informed and able to recognize symptoms in order to protect our most vulnerable from COVID-19. Early signs to recognize for a patient or resident who cannot communicate their symptoms are cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fatigue, or vomiting. Emergency warning signs are trouble breathing, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, and bluish lips or face.
DHEC encourages those who are concerned with memory loss to participate in a memory screening. Memory screening is an important step in early detection of Alzheimer’s Disease. The screening takes about 10 minutes and is a series of questions to determine if a more comprehensive examination is needed. The screening is not used to diagnose any particular illness. Memory loss can be attributed to a number of issues outside of ADRD, such as vitamin deficiencies and thyroid issues, which may be treated easily. Early detection allows an individual more opportunity to take advantage of medical treatments that may have a significant impact on quality of life later.
Moving forward, DHEC hopes the lifted restriction on LTCFs has offered some relief for loved ones and their families. We know it was long awaited and understand that social contact is crucial to those suffering from ADRD.
To check to see if the facility your loved one is in is offering visitation, please go to this link – . DHEC encourages families and friends of residents to be cautious and diligent before visiting a loved one. The Alzheimer’s Association asks the public to socially distance, wash hands regularly, consider an outdoor visitation, and to stay home if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
To all the employees and families, we thank you for continued support, patience, and efforts in keeping our residents safe. DHEC will continue work with our facilities and staff to ensure the most up to date information and guidance is provided to continue serving the great people of South Carolina.
Happy Alzheimer’s Awareness and Memory Screening Month!
For more information, please use the links below:
Considerations for Memory Care Units in Long Term Care Facilities
Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Memory Screening Program