Keeping in touch with a person with dementia in a care home through coronavirus

Staying in touch with someone in a care home is made much harder by the pandemic. Visits have been severely restricted. 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 there is an important reason – keeping 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 with any questions or concerns. 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 isolated.

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. Care homes need to be very cautious about letting relatives or friends visit. They are only very slowly re-opening to visitors.

The care home manager will make decisions on visiting. They will look at the situation in the home but also the circumstances of each resident individually, including their vulnerability to COVID-19 and their mental wellbeing. 

The care home should keep you updated regularly on the person you care about, and 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.

If any residents or staff have had coronavirus, visiting will stop until at least 28 days after the last case was found. An exception will generally be made for close relatives or friends visiting someone who is nearing the end of their life. You also won’t be allowed to visit at all if you have any symptoms of coronavirus on the day.

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

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 chocolate 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.

What will happen when I can visit the care home?

When you are OK to visit, the home will explain what you need to do. All care homes have their own arrangements in place, so details will vary.

Most homes will require that: 

  • you book in advance – so families don’t all come in at once
  • you avoid using public transport to visit the home, if possible
  • visitors are limited – one or two named people from your household
  • visits are less often – perhaps once a week for 30 minutes each
  • you wear protective covering. This may be a simple face covering or a face mask and gloves similar to the PPE (personal protective equipment) staff will be wearing.
  • you wash or sanitise your hands when you arrive and leave – staff will help here.

Your reunion may well be emotional. After a long gap and if the person has memory problems, you may need to gently remind them who you are. You may need to mention the virus to explain why you couldn’t visit. Talking about earlier times you’ve enjoyed together may be a way of keeping the conversation more cheerful. 

Don’t be surprised if the person’s dementia has worsened since you last saw them or if they seem low. They may improve with ongoing support, and their feelings for you remain, even if they seem hidden. 

It’s natural to want to hold hands or have a hug or cuddle. Staff will advise on whether this can be done safely – it will come down to the individual.

You may be asked to meet in a garden or outdoor space, where you can safely sit or walk two metres (three steps) apart. You may need to speak to the person from behind a see-through plastic screen – like those seen in supermarkets now. Or you may chat through an open ground-floor window or patio door. Try to be flexible and work with everyone as best you can.

Before you leave, arrange the next visit. This will give you and the person something to focus on and look forward to.

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