One thing we do know about the novel coronavirus: the older New Yorkers are far more susceptible to the illness than anyone else. Many of New York’s senior population live on their own and are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. But what about the 400,000 New Yorkers living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia? With bans on nursing home visits, many are losing contact with their loved ones, who may have been their only connection to their memories, now slipping away.

And what about caregivers taking care of Alzheimer’s sufferers at home? They may be afraid to leave the house for fear of bringing the virus home with them. But many work, and all need foods and vital medications.

For some answers, we turned to one of the nation’s leading experts on creating a safe and healthy environment for Alzheimer’s patients, and those caring for them, day after day. Charles Fuschillo, Jr. is the President and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.

Q: Mr. Fuschillo, apart from the virus itself, what is your biggest concern for Alzheimer’s patients right now, when visitors aren’t being allowed into nursing homes?

A: The isolation, is one thing. That is something that we try to avoid at any time.  So we’re trying to make sure they can participate in our programs remotely. When you have something like this lockdown, we insist that our programs can be conducted virtually in nursing homes, and we try to convince home carers to do the same at home.

Q: How are they able to access those programs?

A: They can access them via social media. We will be running our music and dance therapy programs all well long. We’re still putting them online on our website. In fact, I received an email from one caregiver who said her loved one got up and started dancing when she put the program on, and that’s what we want to hear. Also, we want everyone to know that our helpline is still open. It’s being done remotely, as our staff is working from home. They can call in to our office Monday-Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm, and on Saturday and Sunday from 9:00am-3:00pm. They’ll have an opportunity to talk to a licensed social worker. They just have to call 1-866-232-8484. Or, they can go online to ALZFDN.ORG and chat with a licensed social worker. We have a system that allows them to chat in 90 different languages.

Q: You must receive a lot of calls from the loved ones of Alzheimer’s patients who are in nursing homes. They may be their only connection to their lives, the only thread holding them to the real world.

A: It is frightening. We still have to understand that the best way to prevent the spread of this illness is to limit and avoid exposure. What we are telling them is to communicate by telephone or FaceTime or Skype. But they have to understand there are too many questions: where is the family member or friend coming from? What could they have been exposed to in their lives? But the availability of Face Time is important.

Q: These are seniors with Alzheimer’s. They don’t know how to connect to Face Time or Skype, and they might not be able to if they did know.  Are care givers in nursing homes helping to get them connected?

A: We are making sure this is happening all over the country. We have nearly 3,000 member offices. We are speaking with caregiving associates in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, making sure patients can be connected and able to Face Time. We’re telling people to make sure they speak to their loved ones, explain what’s going on. Where possible, we’re asking them to take family members into a separate room where they can Skype. We have encouraged them over the past week or ten days to get their loved ones connected. And we’re keeping our offices open remotely so that we can answer any of their questions. In today’s world, that’s so important.

Q: What are you telling home caregivers who may have to leave the home for work or to pick up food or medicines, but are afraid they’ll infect the person they’re caring for?

A: Use delivery services as best you can. We have known about this for weeks and months, so, hopefully, some preparations should have been made already. There are lockdowns now of restaurants and other places as well, so we hope people have fully stocked up, and that nursing homes have stocked up.

Q: What message would you like to get out there to loved ones who are taking care of Alzheimer’s or Dementia?

A: We want them to know we are here. We’re checking in on everyone we work with, making calls to our offices and affiliates to make sure they are safe, and that they have the help they need. It’s so critically important to stay connected. If you can by simple phone call, or Skype or Face Time. Our focus right now is outreach. We’re on the phone all day long, reaching out to people and facilities, letting them know our helpline is open. We’re also saying, don’t give into the alarms. Every time someone reads a paper or watches TV there is more fear. We are doing all we can to stay connected, to give them the information they need and, hopefully, take away some of that fear.

A: Are you comfortable that nursing homes are taking the proper precautions and actions?

Q: From what we have found, the answer is yes. We’ve been in touch with affiliates of the Alzheimer’s Foundation, and they’ve been working on this for a while, as have we.  Most of them were ready. They have professionally trained staffs who are taking every precaution to stay healthy. They are sanitizing their facilities. They’re closing the door to the danger. And we’re reaching out to them to, letting them know we’re here and available to talk. And we’re encouraging everyone, in nursing homes or at home, to keep the patients active, and stay in touch with them as much as possible.