Staying safe from coronavirus and reducing the risk of infection

People with dementia and many older carers are at higher risk from coronavirus. This is why it’s important to pay particular attention to the guidance on how to stay safe

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Dementia and the guidance

Dementia itself can make following the guidance on social distancing and hygiene harder. The person may:

  • not understand what the guidance means
  • forget what the rules are
  • be confused by a change in routine 
  • become disorientated in shops and public areas that are less busy or have been adapted to aid social distancing (for example, with screens and one-way systems).

If you are a carer, there are things you can do to help keep you both safe – at home and in the wider community.

Explain the guidance clearly to the person in a calm and matter-of-fact way. It might help to point out that this advice is from the NHS, GP or someone the person trusts – and that we all have to follow it.

Our practical suggestions on communicating may help.

Social distancing and dementia

The rules allow everyone to go out for certain reasons. People with dementia often have a need or want to walk, and physical exercise is good for all of us for many reasons. 

Social distancing – keeping away from anyone not in your household – may be harder for a person with dementia.

As well as the reasons above, people with dementia might:

  • be unsettled if some people have their faces covered
  • find it difficult to wear a face covering themselves
  • find that their usual route is closed off or shops are shut
  • be confused by unfamiliar signs or floor markings in shops
  • want to be closer to other people than they should be
  • feel lonely and approach someone to chat or for help.

Not all these ideas will work for everyone, but some suggestions include:

  • putting a straightforward reminder poster in a prominent place by the front door
  • using a device that plays an automated reminder that you can personalise, for example – to keep three steps away from others. See our information about using this type of technology
  • going out early in the morning so fewer people are around
  • choosing quieter routes to walk
  • carrying an ‘I have dementia’ or other helpcard to show as needed
  • downloading to a smartphone or printing out a ‘Please give me space’ badge
  • asking for support from people you know in your local community – if the person agrees and it can be done sensitively without causing upset.

You may still have concerns that the person is not able to follow the guidance safely.

See if you can help them with what they need in a different way that involves going out less. For example:

  • exercising – could that be indoors?
  • a neighbourly chat – could that be over the fence or at an open door?
  • fresh air – could that in the garden or an open window?
  • stimulation or a routine – could you enjoy activities  indoors instead?

Rare Dementia Support has some short videos on staying safe during the lockdown.

We also have more on walking about and the national police safety scheme Herbert protocol to help support someone to walk safely. Finding alternative and safe options to help the person’s need to walk may help your relationship and avoid stress and confrontation. 

Following good hygiene 

Keeping hands clean and following good respiratory hygiene are crucial in helping to 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 guidance suggests doing it when you get back home after being outside, 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.

Coronavirus can survive on surfaces for several hours so it’s a good idea to regularly clean items that are touched often – remote controls, telephones, kitchen taps and door handles.   

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 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 us – ‘living in the moment’ like this can really help with anxiety too.
  • Avoid criticism of any errors – offer encourage 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, using a hand moisturiser or barrier cream after handwashing will help keep skin healthy.

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