By Lauren Makahian Contributing writer. Originally published in PV News on 2/4/2021

Each week I hold a support group meeting, founded to help local residents find direction and help with caring for their loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

I lead the conversation, but encourage everyone to share their situations, concerns, challenges, successes, and any other questions or thoughts they have that others can help with. 

Since the first meeting many years ago and extending through the online format we’ve used for the past ten months, each meeting seems to take on a life of its own. Some days the meetings feel a bit like therapy, with people needing to be heard and supported. Other days they feel more like gripe sessions, concerned with care issues and what to do about them. 

Some days the meetings are preoccupied with news and anxieties about how it affects loved ones with dementia. No matter what other topics I introduce, the conversation returns again and again to the news. In a way, these meetings are like a pulse point, indicating what’s on people’s minds and causing them to lose sleep. 

That pulse, for several weeks now, indicates a lot of stress over the vaccine for COVID-19. We all want the pandemic to end, along with our fears and frustration that surround it. 

By far, the biggest anxiety surrounds when and how loved ones will get vaccinated. This is certainly understandable since most are in the age demographic with the highest fatality rate from the disease.

I’m happy to report that those in communities are getting vaccinated now or in the very near future. Staff in those communities are being vaccinated as well, so those living in community situations are beginning to see some light at the end of this dark tunnel. For more details, I encourage anyone with a loved one in a facility to contact its management to ask about specific schedules along with any other questions. Facilities are businesses and it’s their job to satisfy their customers, who are not only their residents but their families. Staff should be happy to share what they know.

A close second in terms of anxieties seems to be when we will all be able to get vaccinated. On this point, I wish I had a crystal ball to provide an accurate answer. I’m encouraged by recent reports that the next few months may bring widespread access to vaccines, but I have no inside scoop. In the meantime, I recommend that everyone continue to take every step possible to limit exposure to others who may not even know they’re contagious.

I’m also experiencing a rash of new calls, starting on January 20. Universally, people are asking if I can help them get the vaccine. 

Although the onset of these calls coincides with the inauguration of our new president, nothing changed on that date with the vaccines or their distribution. I have no power whatsoever to change the timelines or influence whether anyone (other than my staff and residents) can get vaccinated. We are all anxiously looking forward to the planned increase in production and availability through equitable distribution across the country.

Other concerns I hear daily are based on anxiety about the vaccinations themselves, notably side effects. Questions about how they, or loved ones, will be monitored after the vaccine is administered are pervasive.

I can easily provide assurances that all of my residents will be carefully monitored by my capable staff. I’m also assured by others around the country that monitoring is a part of their administration as well. Even the so-called mega-sites where thousands may be vaccinated are being staffed by EMT’s, nurses, and students studying in medical fields to monitor for side effects.

 I also quickly point out that all vaccines, including annual flu vaccinations administered by pharmacists across the country, have potential side effects. The only real distinguishing characterization of the COVID-19 vaccines seems to be the public scrutiny of them and their testing programs. I have yet to find any rational basis for more fear of these vaccines than those for the flu.

A year from now, I hope we can all think about this time as a challenge that we overcame. In the meantime, we need to practice self-care and stay healthy to get there so we can continue to help and care for others.

Be safe, be well, and join me in looking forward to looking back at this trying time as a distant memory.

Lauren Mahakian is a certified care manager and offers a free podcast, Unlocking the Doors of Dementia™ with Lauren. Visit familyconnectcare.com for more information.

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