When social distancing began in response to COVID-19, I, and other dementia practitioners, could no longer facilitate support groups for the care partners of individuals living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Previously, I had conducted two support groups per month, but these had to be canceled and hastily reorganized as virtual meetings through online technology.
With workshops, speaking engagements and other face-to-face events also canceled, I suddenly had more time and more demand for online contact, and soon I found myself facilitating as many as 10 online meetings a month.
And with no geographical limitations, we’ve had people joining us from as far away as Oregon and Ontario!
So, clearly, COVID-19 has revolutionized the methodology and frequency of care partner support meetings. But what I did not anticipate was that it would also significantly change the nature of the conversation by confronting each of us with the question, “What will happen to my loved one with dementia if I suddenly become incapacitated?”
Typically, support groups dedicate a lot of time to the crisis-du-jour; the problems caused by their loved one’s behavior that they do not know how to cope with. Usually, this leaves little time to talk about the care partner’s health and well-being, or for contingency planning in the event that they too become ill or incapacitated.
I now see among my support groups a keen interest in discussing the issues that are inevitable but not yet pressing. These include conversations about powers-of-attorney, health care surrogacy, professional placement, financial planning, arranging for third-party support and — perhaps the most important of all — self-care.
Let’s face it: If we don’t take care of ourselves and prudently plan, one day there may be no one to take care of our loved one with dementia.
So, COVID-19 has definitely flipped the agenda. While crisis management is still, and always will be, an important issue, there is now a greater emphasis on contingency planning. I consider this a healthy trend. More intelligent discussion among care partners about contingency planning today will result in a reduced need for crisis management in the future, and this is a good thing.
Debbie Selsavage is a certified trainer and consultant in the Positive Approach to Care, and a certified dementia practitioner. Her company, Coping with Dementia LLC, is dedicated to making life better for individuals living with dementia. Contact her at email@example.com to learn about free support groups online.