Adherence to social distancing, getting used to a new routine, and other disruptions associated with lockdown present a unique set of challenges for those caring for someone with dementia. This article offers advice for caregivers to help them during the coronavirus pandemic.
The current government guidance states that people who are ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ (i.e. people over 70 and those with specific health conditions) should stay at home and avoid contact with others (known as ‘shielding’).
People with dementia are not included in the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ list. However, patients with dementia may be over 70 or have specific medical comorbidities which would classify them as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’. In these instances, these individuals should continue to stay at home and avoid contact with others and adhere to the government advice for ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ people.
The measures put in place within society to help fight coronavirus require us to all adjust to a ‘new norm’. Many patients with dementia struggle with changes to their usual routine (1), so adjusting to lockdown life could be especially difficult for them.
Maintaining good hygiene is an important public health measure for preventing the spread of coronavirus (2). Dementia patients may require frequent prompting to help them adapt to and adhere to the requirements of lockdown life. You could put up signs around their home reminding them to frequently wash their hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. Verbal promoting could be useful too.
If the person you are caring for is able to exercise, they should be encouraged to get some daily physical activity. However, they may require frequent, simple reminders about social distancing (i.e. the importance of staying at least two metres apart from individuals). Many residential and care homes have put strict social distancing measures in place. However, if you are caring for a person with dementia at home and they are going out in public for their daily exercise, you may wish to choose a quieter walking route and avoid busy times.
You can help a person with dementia to maintain good social relationships by setting up frequent phone and video calls with their friends and relatives. Seeing a loved one’s face as well as hearing their voice can help a person with dementia to feel connected. Many care homes use specific technology platforms (i.e. zoom or skype), so get in touch with staff to see what is preferred and if they can help to facilitate calls.
Friends and relatives can also provide care from a distance for those who live alone or in care homes. Sending flowers, photographs and cards is a great and safe way to remind the person that you’re thinking of them. Letters and emails are personable and can be read by care home staff, if needed. You could also send CDs of their favourite songs or their favourite movies to help provide comfort and support their wellbeing.
Hopefully, by now, systems will be in place to ensure that the person you care for is receiving a regular supply of food and necessities. If the person you care for usually does their own food shopping, try asking for support from friends, family, or neighbourhood volunteer groups to get their groceries delivered to their doorstep. Many supermarkets are also allocating online shopping slots for vulnerable customers. If the person that you care for is classified as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’, you can stillregister them to receive support from the government.
Keeping busy will help to combat boredom, which often leads to restlessness and agitation in people with dementia. Try to set up different ‘boredom buster’ activities in a variety of rooms around the home. Here are some ideas:
Dementia presents many nutritional challenges and these may be exacerbated by the restrictions of lockdown. To help maintain good nutritional status, you may want to consider the following:
It’s important to ensure that you’re also looking out for your own wellbeing. If you have concerns relating to caring for someone with dementia during lockdown (and beyond), you can reach out for support from Dementia UK or the Alzheimer’s Society.
Support services for caregivers and people with dementia continue to operate during lockdown. Charitable organisations and healthcare services actively encourage individuals to get in touch if they require support throughout lockdown. We have listed some useful resources below. If you’re still concerned about a person with dementia, speak to a healthcare professional.