June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month and there is no better opportunity to recognize the struggles and successes of residents living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, and their heroic caregivers.

A recent study published by the Journal of the American Geriatric’s Society has confirmed what caregivers in long-term care already know – the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on residents with dementia. Worsening behavioral disturbances, such as agitation, aggression, apathy and depression were observed in more than half of the patients studied. Reduced social interactions and stimulation, along with heightened levels of caregiver stress, undoubtedly have contributed to observed changes.

“We’ve certainly seen an uptick in the use of anti-anxiety and antipsychotic medications,” said Bethany Bramwell, R.Ph., lead consultant pharmacist for Guardian Pharmacy of Missouri. “Use of these medications carries a high risk for adverse effects, including falls, in this already vulnerable population.”

“Our team of consultant pharmacists has really stepped up to this challenge,” said Bramwell, including learning better ways to provide remote support to care centers. “Mitigating risk from pharmacotherapy and proactively engaging care staff on use of non-pharmacological strategies for managing distressing symptoms is at the forefront of what we do daily for our residents with dementia.”

To support caregivers, the clinical team has continued offering training and education, albeit remotely, to all levels of caregivers in communities.

Carla Zeilmann, Pharm.D., clinical consultant pharmacist from Springfield, Missouri, shared this experience about a resident with dementia taking more than 30 medications:

“When she was admitted, she was awake, but unresponsive, and confined to a wheelchair. I worked with the care team to reduce the number of medications. After a couple of months of weaning her off medications, she was alert, talkative, and walking. The effect was stunning. Working with this patient made me appreciate that when it comes to medications in patients with dementia, sometimes less is more.”

“Looking to the other side of this crisis I see positive changes,” says Bramwell, “such as improved communication between caregivers, families and providers, as well as a refocus on the importance of engagement and social interaction when caring for these residents.”

For more information on Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, visit https://www.alz.org/abam/overview.asp