Helping a person with dementia to keep safe and well during coronavirus
Now that a significant proportion of the population across the UK has been vaccinated and pressure on the NHS is reduced, restrictions continue to be lifted. However, it is still important for a person with dementia to pay particular attention to guidance on how to stay safe.
Following the guidance with dementia
One of the best protections from COVID-19 is having the coronavirus vaccination when you are offered it. The vaccine gives strong protection to you and helps stop you passing coronavirus on.
Even after being vaccinated, it’s still important to follow the guidance on
- face coverings
- hand washing
- social distancing
- fresh air.
Having dementia can make this harder. The person may not understand what the guidance means or forget what the rules are.
There are things you can do to help keep you both safe – at home and out in the community. This is particularly important as coronavirus is still in circulation, including more easily transmitted variants of the virus.
Explain the guidance clearly to the person in a calm and matter-of-fact way. Our practical suggestions on communicating may help. It might help to point out that this advice is from the NHS, GP or someone the person trusts. And that following the guidance will help to keep coronavirus rates low so restrictions can continue to ease.
You may need to repeat this information while you are out with the person to remind them why you need to follow the guidance.
Helping the person feel confident about getting out
It is now within the guidance to go out more. People with dementia often have a need or want to walk, and physical exercise is good for all of us for many reasons.
Many people living with dementia have told us they’ve lost skills or independence over the course of the pandemic. Keeping active helps people with dementia live better. It can help the person to get back skills and motivation they may feel they’ve lost during lockdown.
It might help to:
- encourage the person to rebuild their confidence by focusing on what they can do, rather than on what they can’t
- support the person to do the things they enjoyed before the restrictions to ease them back into these activities. This might mean adjusting the way they do things, or doing them for shorter periods
- help them to go at a pace that is most comfortable for them.
The following suggestions may also be helpful:
- putting a straightforward poster in a prominent place by the front door – to remind them to carry a face covering (unless exempt) and not get too close to other people
- using assistive technology, such as a device that plays an automated reminder that you can personalise, for example – to keep three steps away from others.
- choosing quieter routes and times to walk.
It is also important that you and the person you care for stay:
- physically active – by doing exercises, indoors or out
- mentally active – by trying an activity (online or off), or maybe learning a new skill
- socially active – by staying connected to those close to you.
Remember to involve the person in choosing what you do at home and in your community. You’ll find lots of ideas in our publication The activities handbook – available to order in print or download. Remember to make activities enjoyable, meaningful and based on the person’s usual interests and preferences. Physical exercise and having a sense of purpose may also help to ease feelings of stress, anxiety or low mood.
Following good hygiene
It is still crucial to keep hands clean and follow good respiratory hygiene to help stop coronavirus spreading. This includes:
- washing hands often with soap and water (or, if this isn’t possible, a hand sanitiser)
- coughing or sneezing into a tissue (if you don’t have a tissue use your elbow – but not your hands)
- putting used tissues in the bin quickly
- not touching your face.
Handwashing is particularly important. The government guidance advises washing hands when you get back home after being outside or handling shopping, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, and before you eat or handle food. If you’re working, wash your hands when you get to work and before you leave.
If the person with dementia has memory problems or is confused, they may struggle with remembering about hygiene.
Try these tips to encourage them to stay safe:
- Print out reminder signs or posters and put them up near hand basins – these come in different languages too.
- Use digital devices to set reminders such as: ‘It’s time to wash our hands’.
- Wash hands with the person to encourage them – maybe sing a song together.
- Break the task down into simple steps – if this makes it easier to follow.
- Focus on the details and senses and talk to the person while handwashing: ‘Does this remind you of being back at school or work?’; ‘Does the smell of the soap bring back memories?’
- Taking note of what’s going on immediately around the person – ‘living in the moment’ like this can really help with anxiety too.
- Avoid criticism of any errors – offer encouragement and praise instead.
Practically, it may help to use a traditional bar of soap if someone is less familiar with liquid soap – in a different colour to the sink.
With more frequent washing or hand sanitiser use, using a hand moisturiser or barrier cream afterwards will help keep skin healthy.
Coronavirus is passed on much more inside than outdoors. Making sure that there’s a supply of fresh air into indoor spaces is especially important when someone in the household has coronavirus or someone visits.
Opening windows is the easiest way of getting fresh air – where it is safe to do so and won’t make the room too cold. Make sure any vents or grilles in the tops of windows are open and not blocked.
Access to medicines
Despite eased restrictions, you may still be concerned about yours or the person’s usual stock of food, medication or other basics.
To stay well, the whole household must have all the medication they need.
If you, or the person you care for, needs repeat prescriptions you may not yet be able to visit the GP surgery or a pharmacy to order these.
Instead, order repeat prescriptions online if you are able to – or get someone you trust to do this for you. Phone your GP surgery or local pharmacy if you need help to do this or if you can’t order online. GPs are busy so if you phone them be patient.
To get medicines safely delivered, you will need to choose to have them either:
- sent to a local pharmacy of your choice – a family member, trusted friend or NHS Community Response Volunteer can then collect them for you
- delivered direct to your home.
Order your usual supply. But do allow extra time as deliveries are very busy at the moment. If you face any difficulties explain these clearly to the pharmacy. If they know they should prioritise you.
The person dropping off your medicines will knock or ring the bell, wait for you to open the door, and leave the medicine outside. They will keep two metres away at all times.
If you live apart from the person
If you live apart from the person with dementia, make sure they know how much help is available. Check they have a plan and know who to contact, if needed. Keep important contact numbers and other useful information next to the phone. If you know trusted neighbours or friends, ask them to pop a note through the door to offer help. You can also:
- look for community support groups in their area. Keep an eye on all the ways Alzheimer’s Society can help.
- continue to help them connect with you. Many people have successfully learned to keep in touch through social media platforms that support video calling such as Skype, WhatsApp and Zoom. These approaches won’t work for everyone. If you’ve not been able to use them, you could phone, text, write letters or post family photos. Regular calls on a particular day or time can give the person structure and something to look forward to. Any form of 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.
- speak to the person about scams. Let them know about scams that are happening connected to coronavirus so they know to look out for them
- telecare and movement monitors can help ensure the person is safe at home. See our technology pages for more information.
- set up a ‘third party mandate’ – where you have temporary access to the person’s bank account – if this would help with banking and paying for deliveries online. Talk to the bank because the person will need to complete a form, and have capacity to do this. If you are an attorney, then you then they may already have this legal power.
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