Supporting a person with dementia at home during coronavirus

As a carer, you will know best how to help the person you support. But coronavirus and the lockdown bring extra challenges on top of dementia. Our advice here may help. 

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Caring for a person with dementia at home already comes with challenges. Coronavirus might make things more difficult or add to an already stressful situation. At this time, be sure to look after yourself as well as the person you’re caring for.  

Staying active 

Many people living with dementia have told us they’re worried about losing skills or independence during lockdown. Even though there are many restrictions to normal life, keeping active will help people with dementia live better and remain more independent for longer.  

We have lots of ideas for you and the person to find ways of being active while staying safe. These include staying: 

  • 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. Also make it enjoyable, meaningful and based on their usual interests and preferences

Having a sense of purpose may also bring more meaning to days that might otherwise seem long and empty. It may also ease feelings of stress, anxiety or low mood.  

Having a routine

In lockdown, one way to get a sense of purpose is to stick to a daily routine. It will also make spending time indoors easier. This familiarity can help reassure the person and feel less anxious, especially if they are worried by news stories. Try the following tips: 

  • Put a daily schedule in place – stick your plan up somewhere you can both see it easily.
  • Make a ‘to do’ list – now is a great time to do jobs you’ve been putting off. 
  • Keep things straightforward – simplify your routine or daily tasks to make them more manageable.   
  • Take things one step at a time – try to focus on one at once and break each task down into smaller steps.   

Watching out for changes in behaviour

Dementia often causes changes in behaviour and some people may show higher levels of agitation or aggression during lockdown. This might be due to restrictions in regular activities, for example:  

  • Is the person used to walking about, and no longer able to because of the lockdown? Our tips on social distancing may include ideas you can try . 
  • Is the change a sign of boredom or anxiety? Purposeful activity – such as helping round the house or playing a game – may help. 

However, be alert to any medical causes that could be behind any changes in behaviour. These could include any of:  

  • infection  
  • pain  
  • dehydration  
  • constipation  
  • a change in medication.  

It’s important to call the GP promptly if the person has any sudden changes in behaviour, because these may be delirium.

People with dementia who get an infection such as coronavirus are at particular risk of getting delirium – sometimes without getting a fever or cough. A person with delirium may suddenly seem more withdrawn or sleepy, or more confused, disorientated or agitated. They might also have hallucinations or paranoia. The doctor will advise what to do.

Looking after your general health 

Keeping safe from coronavirus is an obvious focus for everyone. We have advice on what to look out for and what to do if someone falls ill at home. But other physical and mental health conditions (for example, heart diseases, diabetes or depression) have not gone away.

It’s important to manage these during the lockdown as best you can. If you look after yourself this is a good start and will help you care for the person with dementia better. 

Follow our tips for staying physically well: 

  • Eat and drink healthily. Staying active may fight off the boredom that can cause us all to eat and drink things that are not so good for us. 
  • Exercise regularly. 
  • Try to get good a good night’s sleep. It will help with mental and physical health. 
  • Follow your healthcare professional’s usual advice on controlling any long-term conditions. Read our information on medicines to make sure you don’t run out. 

Finally, ask for help. If you are ever concerned about a health condition for you or the person with dementia, speak to your doctor or usual healthcare professional. This could be to do with coronavirus, dementia or something else. But do ask. 

In the early days of this pandemic, the NHS did postpone many routine check-ups and some non-urgent treatments. This was to free up hospital beds and staff to prepare for the worst. Things are getting more back to normal now, although you might find the way health is delivered is different for a while. For example, you may be asked to speak to the GP on the phone rather than go to the surgery. But do ask and follow up any concerns you have – you will not be a ‘burden’ on the NHS. 

Download a free printable leaflet with five key messages for carers who are supporting someone with dementia at home

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