Now that the big day has finally arrived i.e. the beginning of the COVID vaccination distribution, another large issue faces those who care for and/or are responsible for someone with dementia: Should my loved one get the vaccination?
As we know, the decision about whether to receive the vaccination is a highly personal one. Each individual must make that choice for him/herself. However, when you may be legally responsible for someone else, and must provide approval or agreement to have that person vaccinated, the question becomes much more complicated.
Let’s look at just a few of the issues involved here:
Is where my loved one with dementia living a factor in deciding whether to get vaccinated?
For individuals living with dementia in community settings, the decision, at least in part, may be made for them i.e. the community may insist that individuals living within their “walls” receive the vaccine regardless of health status. While the potential legalities of this approach have yet to be tested, many communities do seem to be taking the approach that residents are not truly safe from the virus until all residents have been vaccinated. While it is important that communities notify a loved one/responsible party of an upcoming vaccination for their dementia resident, you may have little room to object or decline the vaccination for them.
Obviously, if a loved one with dementia is still living at home, the options about if and when to get vaccinated are more flexible. The question in this environment becomes if my loved one is incapable of making a decision about vaccination what do I believe is in his/her long-term best interest and/or do I have a good idea about what he/she would decide if capable of making that decision.
Does my loved one’s stage of dementia make a difference in terms of getting the vaccination?
To provide additional support in decision-making, organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association are advocating that all individuals with dementia regardless of living location or stage of the disease be vaccinated. Their position is that even later to end stage persons with dementia can benefit from the vaccine largely from the premise of reducing suffering should that individual get COVID-19 at some point. For those at the earlier stages of the disease especially, it will allow them to fully re-integrate into their environment with much less concern about COVID-19 complications. For those in communities, it will allow them the chance to more safely go back to communal activities and dining with fellow residents as well as feeling more comfortable once visits from loved ones resume. For those living elsewhere, it enables them to feel more comfortable going to various public places and visiting with family and friends once COVID-19 restrictions begin to loosen.
What if my loved one with dementia doesn’t really understand the vaccination process and becomes frightened or upset?
While having a loved one with dementia in a community setting may not allow this, being able to sit with your loved one when they get the vaccination can be very helpful in alleviating these potential issues. In a community setting, if possible, see if you can arrange that a specific staff member who regular takes care of your loved one can be with them when they get their shot.
While we just touched upon a few questions here, in the end, whether or not to get the vaccine is a highly personal choice. Only you and your loved one with dementia can decide what is best for your situation.
Scott Tolan, M.A. Gerontology | Memory Care Program Director
Scott brings to Open Arms a strong background in dementia care working both with those who have the disease and their primary caregivers/loved ones helping them address the day-to-day challenges of dementia and assisting them in maximizing their quality of life in dealing with the disease.