SMITHFIELD, Va. - We are often reminded to stay six feet apart and to wear a mask, but imagine having to explain that to someone with memory loss.
"Getting her to keep that mask on while we are in public has been a real struggle,” said Carrie Bruce.
Thankfully, 84-year-old Bettye Thomas has her daughter, Carrie Bruce, by her side to remind her.
Thomas was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia in 2007. After years of living in a long-term facility, she now lives with Bruce at her Smithfield home.
“She still has friends that she was in contact with at the facility. With the lockdown, she wasn't able to see them anymore,” adds Bruce.
Leaders with the Alzheimer’s Association of Southeastern Virginia say the lack of social interaction due to the pandemic is a serious concern for people living with the disease.
"If you can imagine someone who may be at the very beginning of recognizing memory loss, social isolation can escalate that,” said Katie McDonough. She is the director of programs and services for the association.
Most people who have the disease and live in a long-term care facility have been already been vaccinated; they are part of Phase 1a. The concern is people who live with family - they are technically in Phase 1b.
"So, the people who are being cared for at home are almost being discriminated against because they aren't part of the long-term care community,” said Bruce.
Bruce’s mother is in line for the COVID-19 vaccine. Bruce was fortunate to get the vaccine because she volunteers at a local hospital. Her concern is for family caregivers who don’t have that access.
"I really feel like a person who is a caregiver should be automatically placed in the same category for the person who they are providing care,” adds Bruce.
According to the Virginia Department of Health Phase 1a, guidelines primary caregivers are considered healthcare personnel.
But it’s not clear if family caregivers are included or how one identifies as a caregiver.
"There isn't a specific identification for caregivers because of their identity as caregivers,” said McDonough.
Caregivers are also not in Phase 1b.
“Those who are family caregivers - meaning those who aren't in a formal paid position to provide care if they don't qualify in some other way for that phase - there isn't a delineation or definition for that specific role,” McDonough adds.
Which can make it harder to care for your loved one who has the vaccine.
"If she were vaccinated and I wasn't and I'm going out in public on a regular basis, then that's only half of the protection as a family that we need to take,” adds Bruce.
News 3 has reached out to the health department for clarification, and we’re waiting to hear back.
Anyone who has questions or concerns or is looking for support should reach out to the Alzheimer’s Association of Southeastern Virginia.