Can I visit a person with dementia in a care home during coronavirus?

Staying in touch with someone who lives in a care home has been much harder during the pandemic. Up until now, visits have been severely restricted because of national restrictions but care homes are now opening up again. Whether or not you’re able to visit, this advice for friends and family should help you stay connected.

Not being able to visit and be with the people we love has been one of the hardest aspects of this pandemic.

This is true even though we know it is important to keep people safe from coronavirus. This is especially difficult for people in care homes, and their friends and families.

It’s natural to be concerned for the person you care about. They may not understand why you haven’t visited. They may be feeling lonely or low. 

Talk to the care home manager about any questions or concerns you have. The home will be working hard to keep the home safe from coronavirus while supporting residents who have not had visits or who have been isolating.

The home should help you keep in touch with the person you care about in a way that works for both of you, while keeping everyone safe. 

When are care home visits allowed?

Coronavirus poses a major threat to vulnerable care home residents as well as a risk to visitors and staff. Throughout the pandemic, care homes have had to be cautious about letting relatives or friends visit.

The government publishes national guidance on visiting care homes in England. As part of its roadmap (plan to relieve restrictions) out of the latest national lockdown, this is the guidance for indoor visits from 12 April 2021.

Any contact the visitor is allowed will depend on the needs of the person they are visiting. Each resident will be able to have:

  • Up to two named visitors  – they will be able to visit regularly indoors so long as they test negative (uninfected) before each visit, wear personal protective equipment (PPE, if aged over 11) and avoid close physical contact with the resident, such as hugging. One of the visitors can be under 18 (for example, the resident’s grandchild) and children aged under two need not be counted as one of the two named visitors.  These visitors can come at the same time or, for adult visitors only, separately.
  • An ‘essential care giver’ – where the person has very high needs they will be able to have close personal contact with an ‘essential care giver’ – in the same way as care home staff. This visitor will also need to test negative before each visit and wear PPE. (In exceptional circumstances more than one essential care giver may be allowed.)
  • Other visitors – they will not need to be tested but will have to visit outdoors, inside a pod or behind a screen.

If there is a coronavirus outbreak within the home, then visiting will be allowed only for essential carers or for those visiting residents at end of life.

The visitor or resident does not have to be vaccinated for any of these visits to be allowed. However, the guidance strongly recommends that both take up the offer of a vaccine under the national vaccination programme.

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Local public health staff will support and advise managers of homes in their area, who are then responsible for setting their own visiting policy.  

Each care home manager developing their own visiting policy will look to support visits safely, while accounting for each resident’s needs. The manager will look at the following specific aspects:

  • The rights and wellbeing of residents – tailored to each individual.
  • The benefits of visits to the person, and their risk from coronavirus.
  • Where visits will happen – based on the home’s layout.
  • Indoor visits – for single, named visitors including ‘essential care givers’, in all cases where the visitor has tested negative beforehand.
  • Outdoor visits and those behind screens – for other friends and family visitors  (testing is not needed).
  • Other measures in place to control infection – such as wearing personal protective equipment, social distancing and handwashing.

In deciding on a particular visit, the home should also look in a person-centred way at the circumstances of each resident individually, including their vulnerability to coronavirus and their wellbeing.

Ask your home about its visiting policy and how it supports the wellbeing of people with dementia including guidance for visitors.

If any residents or staff have had coronavirus, visiting will stop until at least 28 days after the last person had coronavirus symptoms. An exception will be made for essential care givers and close relatives or friends visiting someone who is nearing the end of their life.

You also won’t be allowed to visit at all for any of the following reasons:

How can I keep in touch if I can’t visit the care home?

Whether or not you are able to visit the care home, staff there should keep you updated regularly on the person you care about. They should let you know whether anyone living or working in the home has coronavirus. They can’t speak to you about named people other than your own family member. The home should explain what measures they have in place to keep everyone safe. 

Some homes have websites or social media groups to support relatives. Make sure the home has your up-to-date contact details and knows the best way to get hold of you.

You may have already been using technology to keep in touch with the person from a distance. The care home should support them as needed to take a call with video technology (such as Skype or Zoom) or phone.

These approaches don’t work for everyone. If you’ve not been able to use these technologies, think about other ways you can keep in touch. You could write letters or post family photos, which staff can then share and talk about with the person. This ongoing connection will help the person feel loved – and may help keep you in their thoughts. This could improve their emotional wellbeing and reduce feelings of sadness or loneliness.

If you send in gifts, choose items that the home can wipe clean easily – a box of chocolates not flowers, for example. If the person is likely to become agitated, ask if you can send them items that can help provide reassurance or comfort, such as Fidget Widgets©. You can find these in our online Shop or at Active minds.

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