People with Dementia and the Coronavirus

Protecting people with dementia from the coronavirus will be difficult and there will be a number of challenges around maintaining basic personal hygiene and how to notice the symptoms of COVID-19.

Already, some people with dementia may experience heightened emotions and feelings. This can be compounded by the stress and anxiety they are undergoing from the coronavirus threat or in response to limitations around their care.

Family and friends of people with dementia are going to need to be more aware of the person’s physical health, whether they are coping with social distancing, and if they are keeping up with washing their hands.

The same goes for aged care facilities, who will need to develop ways to manage their residents with dementia and keep them safe from the coronavirus, especially if they have any current comorbidities.

Challenges that may arise

Founder and Co-Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Group Homes, Tamar Krebs, says that isolating is going to be difficult for that person with dementia, as well as for their carer or aged care and home care provider.

“It is not easy for [a person with dementia] to isolate, it is not easy for them to not talk to a face or follow an instruction about sanitising, those are things that need to be prompted,” says Ms Krebs.

“If a person can isolate in their room, we would encourage them to, but most of the time we can’t, so we would be sanitising after them, and then again, engaging their hands so they are not doing other things. 

“That is really important, we can set them up to fail but we can try our best to make sure they are safe, and then again not triggering them by talking too much about the virus, because that can cause an enormous amount of anxiety and agitation, but rather talking to them about different topics going on in the world and then engaging in something meaningful and purposeful so the days go by even if their family doesn’t visit them.”

Carers and family will need to prompt the person they are caring for to reduce touching their face and to make sure they wash their hands regularly.

Ms Krebs explains that people with dementia may not respond well to someone wearing a mask, it can be scary and only seeing half of someone’s face can be disconcerting. She says that some carers or aged care staff have been drawing smiles on their masks to make them less confronting.

Additionally, Ms Krebs says families, carers and aged care staff will need to adapt how they care for people with dementia in a way that keeps them safe but is also sensitive to their needs.

Carers and families will need to be vigilant in recognising any symptoms of the coronavirus or help the person with dementia verbalise if they are not feeling well, for example by utilising picture cards.

Maree McCabe, CEO of Dementia Australia, explains that the progressive behaviour of dementia may even make it difficult for a person to follow the recommended protocols or read signs.

“The ability to follow instructions or how to alert health professionals or other staff about potential symptoms may be a challenge, especially where there is limited capacity to communicate verbally or express pain and discomfort,” says Ms McCabe.

“There is much confusion generally about the information available with updates and new decisions changing daily to keep pace with this rapidly evolving situation. For people living with some form of cognitive impairment, this can create even more uncertainty.”

Tips for around the home or aged care facilities

Dementia Australia recommends using dementia-friendly signage around the home or at facilities, created in large writing, and explain different hygiene protocols. These signs may include photos of washing your hands, which can help a person with dementia or someone with dementia who speaks another language other than English.

Some people with dementia will need prompting to make sure they follow general hygiene and may require some assistance.

Keeping to routine will be helpful around the home. If possible, allocate times for washing your hands or other ways to reduce the risk of developing the coronavirus. If it is part of their routine, a person with dementia may be more likely to remember. 

People with dementia in nursing homes may not be receiving as many visitors or are unable to attend their regular activities. This can cause a person with dementia to get anxious or upset, so it is important to validate their feelings and reassure them. This also applies to people with dementia who are social distancing at home alone or with their partner.

Some ways to alleviate the stress of reduced visitors is to utilise the available video functions on your computer, tablet or smartphone. If the person with dementia can’t see their loved ones in person, at least they can see their face on the phone and feel more reassured. 

It’s important for people with dementia to be engaged, otherwise, it can result in behaviour changes. Keeping their hands and minds busy is vital to keeping their moods and mental health elevated. 

Source: Aged Care Guide