A woman with a face mask and a woman without one

Should a person with dementia wear a face mask for coronavirus?

Due to coronavirus, many of us now wear face masks or coverings while out shopping or on public transport. Some people with dementia may not like wearing a face covering, or understand why they should wear one. Read our advice on how to help and who may be exempt from wearing a mask.

This article was first published on 7 July 2020 and most recently updated on 03 August 2020.

During the coronavirus pandemic we’ve seen health and social care staff wearing face masks as part of their protective personal equipment (PPE). Face coverings, worn by members of the wider public, are different. They come in many different styles and may be home-made.

Here’s what you need to know about face coverings and how to support a person with dementia who might struggle with them.

Why should I wear a face mask or face covering?

Wearing a face covering helps stop you spreading coronavirus to other people. If you wear a face covering you may also be a bit less likely to catch coronavirus from someone else. 

You must still keep your distance, and follow good hygiene. You must self-isolate and get tested if you become ill with coronavirus. Older people and those with dementia are at higher risk of severe illness if they catch coronavirus, so should be extra careful to follow guidance on staying safe. 

A face covering is particularly important in enclosed spaces, such as while out shopping or on public transport, and if you’re around strangers.

Even with distancing measures in place, people will often get closer in shops or on public transport. Without fresh air the virus is more concentrated in enclosed spaces. A face covering can help reduce some of this risk.

A person with dementia might consider wearing a face covering even just walking outdoors in the high street – it could make them feel safer. But you don’t have to wear a face covering in your own home, unless you’re unwell with the virus and self-isolating.

Where can I get a face mask, or how do I make a face covering?

The government has issued guidance on how to make and wear a cloth face covering

You can use a scarf or bandana, or make your own covering from an old T-shirt or piece of cotton. It should be comfortable and cover your nose and mouth. You may already wear a face covering such as niqab, and don’t need to make or buy one. 

You can also buy a basic face mask online or from a pharmacy or supermarket. 

Don’t buy special medical-grade face masks. Supply of these is needed for frontline care workers.

What does the UK law say on wearing a face covering?

It is now compulsory in England for anyone aged 11 or over to wear a face covering on public transport, in NHS facilities as a visitor or outpatient, or inside shops. From 8 August this list also includes museums, galleries, cinemas and places of worship.

Face coverings are required on public transport in Northern Ireland and in Wales. In both countries they are recommended, but not required, in other enclosed spaces such as shops.

These rules do not apply to a person with dementia if they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ not to wear a face covering. A reasonable excuse could be:

  • They cannot physically put on or wear a face covering.
  • Wearing the face covering would cause them severe distress.
  • Someone with them needs to read their lips to communicate.
  • They need to remove the face covering temporarily to eat, drink or take medication. 

If someone such as a ticket inspector or shop assistant challenges the person for not covering their face, explain that they have dementia and can’t. Showing one of our helpcards, or a hidden disabilities sunflower lanyard (available at participating supermarkets) or exemption card is also a good idea.

You can also print your own exemption card at home or download one to your smartphone from the government’s guidance page.

Need help explaining why a face mask can't be worn?

Carrying our helpcards may help you when out in the community. You can also wear a sunflower lanyard and face covering exempt card, both available from Hidden Disabilities. 

Order our helpcards Face covering exempt card

What if a person with dementia won’t wear a face covering?

It’s safer for everyone if we all follow the guidance on face coverings. If the person finds wearing a face covering difficult, try to understand why. 

Be patient and offer encouragement – if you show frustration or irritation, the person will pick up on this.

  • Do they simply forget why it’s needed? Consider a sign up by the door for when you go out. You may need to gently remind the person we’re still in a pandemic.
  • Does the mask fit comfortably? Try different styles or looser fastenings if it's too tight
  • Are they unhappy with the feel of the fabric? Try some different materials, maybe one made from a familiar garment (check with them first before cutting the fabric).
  • Do they pull the cover down? Try some distraction or positive reinforcement – how wearing a face covering helps to stop the spread of coronavirus and keep people well.
  • Are they anxious it will stop them breathing? Offer reassurance and show them that it won’t.
  • Is there a past experience that might make them fearful about wearing a mask (perhaps as a young child in the war)? Talk to them about it and try to find ways to reassure them.

If these still don’t work, and wearing the mask would cause the person distress, then you are within the law to give this as a reasonable excuse for the person not to cover their face.

How can I communicate if I have my face covered?

Whether the person themselves is wearing a face cover or not, you may still be wearing yours at times. This may be unsettling for the person because they cannot read your facial expressions. Or perhaps they can’t hear your voice as clearly.

Try these tips to help you communicate when your face is covered:

  • Follow our general rules for good communication – use short, simple phrases and hand gestures.
  • Be mindful that a face covering makes things different – you may need to adapt how you communicate.
  • Think carefully about your tone – be clear, calm and friendly. Speak a bit louder from behind the cover.
  • Smile – your eyes communicate genuine warmth even if you smile is hidden.
  • Think about non-verbal clues – your body language (calm, open, friendly) should match your words. Gently mirror the person’s gestures if that helps connect you.
  • Above all, be empathic. Try to understand how the person is feeling – ask them if possible – and support them as patiently as you can.

More coronavirus advice and support

If you need help living with or supporting somebody with dementia during the pandemic, we're here for you. See our latest coronavirus advice and read how we can support you.

Coronavirus advice How we can help

42 comments

Add a comment

Don’t forget that the government guidance says that people can remove their masks when communicating with someone with hearing loss. Many older people with dementia will also have problems with their hearing and be relying on lip shapes to understand speech. It’s vital that carers and family recognise this and act appropriately - staying 2 metres apart of course. Written by someone with hearing loss!

This is helpful
3

In the mobility shop staff insisted Dad wear a mask. He said he was hot and stifled and could not concentrate on finding his payment card or remember his pin. He could not lip-read what staff were saying. Shop staff said, "that's why I take my mask off in the shop". I was unable to lip-read what either of them were saying. As we were leaving Dad un-hooked his mask and that tangled in his hearing aid and flipped it across the car park and I had to go over and pick it up as Dad can't bend down safely. I was wearing a sunflower lanyard and was allowed to not wear a mask. Dad prefers to wear a mask and for us to struggle than wear a label round his neck highlighting his disability. It is really stressful, but also like a Month Python sketch too. When you go in a shop without a mask staff should not be offended when you reply to their mask challenge, "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition" which is a line from an old Python sketch.

This is helpful
1

I was sent an email, with an attachment for people with breathing or other problems, to exempt them from wearing a face mask. Apparently it stated no one was checked out as to why they weren't wearing a mask, just as long as they carried a small statement saying " exempt from wearing a face mask, please keep your distance". I was sent the link, for a copy of the badge from a professional body. So please don't panic if you genuinely feel you can't wear a face covering. Just print yourself off an exemption notification. Or get someone to do it for you.

This is helpful
0

These are challenging times that none of us have experienced before. But if my mum was still alive I'd prefer her to be safe outside our home and wear a mask or some form protection against covid19. I know she wouldnt understand why she had to wear it, as anyone else who is looking after a parent, relative or other family member they wont do something they dont want to or feel uncomfortable in doing. I'd try making it some kind of game that if she left it on I would give her a reward. Yeah I know its bribery but at least she would be as safe as I could make her. Even if I had to make the masks myself with material that she would pick out maybe then she would co operate to wear it.
We have to do everything we can to protect our family members that are already coping with a life threatening illness, but now we need to protect them even more.

This is helpful
0

I was told by both my Respiratory Nurse and Doctor, that I have to wear a mask at all times, for my own protection. I struggle to wear a mask as I also have Emphysema and Bronchiectasis, but I guess it’s keeping me alive.

This is helpful
0

I'm a Wellbeing Activity Co-ordinator in a hospital supporting people to live well with dementia across 3 busy wards. The only company they have had since the beginning have been NHS staff in PPE. While my team of 3 people havevto adhere to PPE we have A5 photos of ourselves wearing normal clothes and smiling pinned to our chests. It helps to reassure and calm our patients and a comment like "this is me under the mask... I'm happy to see you" is a great way of breaking the chain's of fear and uncertainty 😀

This is helpful
11

Hi, I hope this link to the latest Government advice on the wearing of face-coverings/masks helps to alleviate the concerns of those who are unclear whether or not it is ok not to wear one. Many people will be exempt from wearing one (myself included) & will not need to prove their medical reasons for not wearing one. Thanks.
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/face-coverings-mandatory-in-shops-su…

This is helpful
4

I am just resigned to leaving Mum at home and coming up with excuses as to why she can’t come with me. I’ve had a lot of practice over the last few months. Her chiropodist and dentist have both said she will not be permitted entry without a mask. I am trimming her hair myself. Exhausted and totally fed up.

This is helpful
1

My partner is Asthmatic as well as Dementia so she finds it very stressful wearing a mask so now she wears a Exempt card and so far it's never been questioned either in the shops or on public transport.

This is helpful
9

Where can we get a sunflower lanyard from please

This is helpful
3

Hi Carole, thanks for your comment.

The sunflower lanyards are available here: https://hiddendisabilitiesstore.com/shop/sunflower-lanyards.html

We have some more information about the scheme here, which you may find helpful: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/blog/hidden-disabilities-dementia-sunflow…

Hope this helps,

Alzheimer's Society blog team

This is helpful
3

Anyone who is distressed by wearing mask doesn't have to. My mum has dementia and is hard of hearing so we both won't be wearing them! Staff won't challenge anyone so don't worry. If customers get funny a poke in the eye usually helps,!

This is helpful
14

Why don't you get a letter of your doctor, to carry round with you to show to anybody who might ask why you are not wearing a mask. The recepenist could print one off without having to see the doctor.

This is helpful
6

We did try this but the receptionist wasn't very helpful.
So my partner now wears a Exempt card on a lanyard.

This is helpful
3

Would seem the obvious answer however as my doctors and many others are not participating in exemption letters then it's not possible

This is helpful
1

Hi Ann Davis, if you google face mask exemption card it will take you to the site and you can either print that off or add it to your phone (if your phone is one that takes photos). These are acceptable on all transport and in shops. Hope that helps x

This is helpful
0

My mum has alzheimer's, she has had a fall and has a water infection, she is now in hospital, and we can't see her . I can talk to her by phone, but I'm concerned if she hears my voice she will kick off and upset her. Its killing me not seeing her, do you think speaking to her by phone is a good idea or not?

This is helpful
0

Does your mum have a photo of you all together whilst in hospital
It may help keep her calm.

This is helpful
2

Many wards will not permit this due to keeping every where clear for cleaning

This is helpful
0

A lot of hospitals help people Skype or zoom using iPads, maybe you could ask if the hospital your mum is in has this facility. Your mum may not understand the technology, but she may find seeing your face reassuring. My sister in law has used this technique to talk to her brother who has a severe head injury after a fall. Not the same situation I know

This is helpful
0

Hi I am career for my husband who has Alzheimer’s,it would help if I could get hold of a lanyard just having difficulties getting one our supermarkets don’t have any where I live ,if he will not wear it I will as I am always saying sorry he has Alzheimer’s which I hate it’s not his fault.

This is helpful
13

I have boight sunflower lanyards off the Internet but last week forgot to put it on him. Our lovely Sainsbury's local had a drawer full and gave me one. ASK AT SAINSBURY'S

This is helpful
8

It would be helpful to be able to obtain the sunflower lanyard but have been unable to get one for my husband who has,alzheimers

This is helpful
4

Barbara do you have a Careers Centre or a Sainsburys Supermarket near to where you live, they have them as I got one for my mum there from Careers centre (free of charge) also free at sainsbury's too x

This is helpful
0

I would like to know what a family can do if the care home a loved one is in does not open up after July 31st?

This is helpful
0

My father has Alzheimers and is in a care home 2 hours away. They have a dedicated smart phone I can use to facetime or whatsapp him. He doesn't understand what the phone is, but I can see him, that he is smiling, healthy or otherwise. As normal conversation is beyond him, I sing him songs he knows, which he enjoys. The staff know I am still keen to communicate, and I find it very reassuring.

This is helpful
0
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.