At the window with Dementia - S1E13
Laura Banner

Laura Banner

Family Nurse Practitioner, Dementia Trainer & Advocate,
Keynote Speaker (Available for speaking engagements on Dementia)

The impact of COVID-19 on memory

Who could have imagined, just a few months ago, that our current pandemic COVID-19 could have such a rippling effect into absolutely every aspect of our life and our world?

I know I certainly couldn’t. It is something that has absolutely changed the world as we know it. And, unfortunately, from everything I can tell and from what I hear from the experts, the world that we used to know, maybe nothing more than a distant memory. The future will probably be some new type of normal something we’ll get used to, something that future generations won’t know anything but, but it certainly won’t be what we’ve all come to know as our previous normal, in my clinic practice, I have had so many people come to me recently for evaluation of their memory. Well, that’s not so unusual. But what is unusual is how many of them are experiencing depression. You have the people who otherwise didn’t have any kind of memory impairment, who now find themselves struggling to remember the simplest of things, they’re experiencing word-finding difficulty and just having a tough time getting through the day. And then you have the people who previously had been diagnosed with some type of cognitive impairment that now has noticed a precipitous decline. And from what I can tell, all things point back to COVID-19.

So let’s first talk about the person who prior to the pandemic, didn’t have any true cognitive impairment, nothing beyond normal age-related forgetfulness. But now they’re struggling. And what I attribute that to is the isolation that we’re experiencing. It’s not normal. It’s not how we’re built; it’s not what we’re used to. And it’s absolutely having a toll a negative toll, a negative impact if you will, on our, our brain, on our personality, on our well being. And as a result, we’re not getting the type of brain stimulation that we’re used to that we thrived on, that we prosper in. And as a result, people are starting to have memory problems, and it’s concerning. And as we know, depression and or anxiety make that situation worse. It makes recall that much more difficult. So, fortunately, the silver lining in that scenario is that we treat anxiety and depression. We treat social isolation. And from that point forward, their memory improves. And that’s a good thing. But what about the people who already had cognitive impairment prior to COVID. And now they’re having a decline. Unfortunately, I don’t think that we can go ahead and we can turn that around. We just have to manage the new symptoms. And even if they’re not completely aware of what’s going on out in the community. What they haven’t lost is their ability to perceive anxiety and stress. It surrounds them, their family, their caregiver, their health care workers, their aides are all experiencing it because no one can go through the current day without being touched one way or another by COVID. It’s taking a toll on everybody. And so, even though those who have some type of memory impairment may not fully understand what’s going on because either they don’t understand it or we’ve sheltered them from it. They still perceive that something’s different. And that something is disorienting to them. And it causes them to struggle in ways that they didn’t prior to COVID-19. And as you can imagine, not only does it have a negative impact on them. But, in turn, it has a negative impact on their caregiver. And it’s a vicious cycle that somehow we have to find a way to break. So what are we going to do here? And I’m asking that in a rhetorical way because I certainly don’t know, what I know is that not understanding what the future looks like is very unsettling. And nobody feels comfortable with that. And just when we started to think that things were starting to ease up a bit and normalize if you will. There’s a new surge. And so, we’re taking a few steps backward. And we’re having to reassess, and figure out how we’re going to manage these rising cases. And what does that do to our mental state?

Well, If you’re like me, you need to understand what the future looks like; maybe you don’t need to know exactly what it looks like. But you’d like to have some idea. Maybe a plan A, plan B, or even, a Plan C, something that you can just rest assures that you understand in one way or another, what its gonna look like forward from here. But we don’t have that right now. So what can we do to go ahead and make things better? What do we have in our control right now? Well, what we can do is we can go ahead, and we can improve our day to day activities. We can go outside; we can get some type of exercise whatever type of exercise, we’re able to tolerate. Some people have some pre-existing conditions that limit their ability to have physical mobility. But some others. They’re certainly able to get out, go and walk, enjoy the sun, and just feel like they’re getting out from the four walls that they have become way too familiar with, getting out and getting moving, getting some fresh air, not only does it do our overall health good, but it certainly has a positive impact on our state of mind. Being able to go out and see people, even if we have to be socially distanced from them. Just being able to see other individuals. I think it does something positive for how we feel. It’s too easy to go ahead and to get bogged down and feel all the negative from the uncertainty that lies ahead.

One thing I know for sure, and it’s something that we’ve done here in my house is we’ve limited our time watching TV. Let me be more specific. We’ve limited the amount of time that we watched the news. It can quickly suck you in, and because we want to stay aware and know the latest information that’s been released and what’s going on, what can happen is it can absolutely have a negative impact on our state of mind. 

And so before you know it, you’re completely consumed by the COVID pandemic. And really, we need a break. We need to go ahead and refocus our thoughts on something positive. And we need to avoid the negative and the uncertain at this moment. So, I don’t know what tomorrow looks like. But what I do know is that I have the ability, and so do you to change what is in our control change what your day looks like. Step outside if the weather permits, go ahead, and have some type of activity that makes you smile. Do something that gives you, if not a permanent reprieve, at least a temporary reprieve on what’s going on out in the world.

What wears you down and makes you sad. Do something positive. And remember, if you don’t already have some type of cognitive issue, and you are experiencing some type of struggle at this point, whether it’s word-finding difficulty, recall difficulty, or just having a hard time focusing on what’s in front of you. Rest assured, this too will pass. Once things improve and things become more tolerable normal from that point forward I believe that your memory will be okay. And for those who unfortunately have some type of cognitive impairment. Well, I wish that we could shield you from the pandemic. And all the rippling negativity, but unfortunately we can’t, at least not 100%, but what we can do is we can try to shelter you just a little bit. We can try to put some positivity back into your day and put a smile back on your face. And remember, we are all in this together. And there will be a brighter future. And even if we don’t know when that date actually will be. We can all hold hope that it will be soon.

Anyway, I just wanted to go ahead and take a moment and talk about COVID and let you all know that we’re all struggling. I’ll be thinking about everyone; I hope you enjoy my podcast. I release new episodes every Tuesday. You can also follow me through my website, or on my Instagram account, feel free to direct message me on either site.

And if you have any questions, that would be the best way to reach out to me.
Thanks so much for listening, and again I hope you decide to subscribe.
Take care everybody
Be well, stay safe.

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