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. Visits have at times been severely restricted and are only now becoming easier. 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. After recent government guidance, they should also now be working to actively enable visits.

When are care home visits allowed?

Under the January 2021 national lockdown (stay at home) rules, indoor visits are suspended. Outdoor visits can still go ahead.

Coronavirus poses a major threat to vulnerable care home residents as well as a risk to visitors and staff. Care homes still need to be cautious about letting relatives or friends visit.

Updated national guidance on visiting care homes in England has been published. In it, the risks of visits are recognised but it also emphasises their benefits to residents and families. For the first time care homes are actively encouraged to support indoor visiting wherever possible. Rapid coronavirus tests for designated family visitors are an important part of this policy change.

Local public health staff will support and advise managers of homes in their area, who are then responsible for setting their own visiting policy. Guidance makes it clear that indoor visits should be enabled for visitors who test negative for the virus (not infected), at all levels (tiers). 

The only exception is if there is a coronavirus outbreak within the home, when visiting will be allowed for residents at end of life only.

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 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 designated family visitors who have tested negative (not infected) beforehand
  • outdoor visits – for designated family visitors who have not been tested
  • other measures in place to control infection – such as 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 COVID-19 and their wellbeing. Ask your home about its visiting policy and how it supports the wellbeing of people with dementia including guidance for visitors.

Our view on visiting care homes

Read our joint call to action to the government.

Read more

If any residents or staff have had coronavirus, visiting will stop until at least 28 days after the last person had COVID-19 symptoms. 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 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 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.

Last updated 6 January 2021

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