Caring for Someone With Dementia During Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Health Conditions

Caring for Someone With Dementia During Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Ilima Loomis
By Ilima Loomis
Apr 03, 2020
A nurse holding hands with a lady who has dementia during COVID-19

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is adding new stressors to the challenge of caring for someone with dementia. Not only are older adults at higher risk, but the symptoms of dementia can make it harder to take precautions to reduce the spread of the virus.

Still, there are resources available that can help. Here’s what you need to know about caring for someone with dementia during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How COVID-19 Affects Dementia Patients

As of March 21, 2020, in the United States, 80% of deaths from COVID-19 have been in people over age 65, and the CDC has warned that older adults are at higher risk. At the same time, people with dementia face special challenges in dealing with coronavirus:

  • They may have less access to news and information or have difficulty understanding what’s going on.
  • They may have trouble remembering to wash their hands, forget about social distancing, or leave the house when they’re supposed to stay at home.
  • It may be hard for them to communicate what they are feeling or describe their symptoms.
  • If they live alone, they may lose access to important services as businesses shut down.
  • They may have trouble using technology to access things like telehealth or social services.
  • If they live in a nursing home, they may become isolated and depressed if visits and group activities are cancelled.
  • If they have to be moved to a hospital, they can become disoriented by the change in surroundings.

In addition, one symptom in serious cases of coronavirus is delirium. That means dementia patients who already have trouble with confusion or disorientation can get worse if they get infected with the virus. And if they become agitated, a common behavior with delirium, it can make it harder to take steps to prevent the spread of infection.

Staying Healthy as a Caregiver During COVID-19

There’s currently no vaccine for COVID-19, so the best way to stay healthy is to avoid being exposed to the virus. That’s especially important for caregivers, who can pass the illness on to someone who’s at high risk.

If you’re a caregiver for someone with dementia, follow CDC guidelines to protect yourself from coronavirus disease, including washing your hands frequently; avoiding unnecessary travel; avoiding contact with people who are sick, and practicing social distancing; disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces, and staying at home as much as possible if you’re in a place with a “shelter in place” order.

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How To Protect Someone With Dementia from Coronavirus

Here are things you can do to help protect someone with dementia from getting coronavirus:

  • Give the person extra support with basic hygiene, such as giving frequent reminders, or placing signs around the house to remind them to wash their hands.
  • If hand washing is not feasible, clean the person’s hands with a hand sanitizer made with at least 60% alcohol.
  • If the person has doctor’s appointments, talk with their health care provider about which telemedicine options are available. Remember that Medicare has temporarily expanded coverage for telehealth services.
  • Reduce the number of trips you need to take to the pharmacy by having medications delivered, or ask the person’s doctor to fill a prescription for a greater number of days.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Make other arrangements for care and don’t visit the person if you’re sick.

If you’re caring for someone who is in denial about COVID-19 or who doesn’t seem to “get it,” focus on helping them follow basic rules like washing hands and not going out, rather than trying to make them understand or accept what’s going on.

Remember that people with dementia often follow a strict routine, so think about when the person usually leaves their house for the day or sees visitors, and focus on intervening around those times. If the person is frustrated because they can’t go out, try refocusing them on activities they can do at home.

What to Do If the Dementia Patient Is in a Facility

If you have a loved one with dementia who’s being cared for at a nursing home or assisted living facility, talk with the facility about what they’re doing to reduce the risk of coronavirus. Ask about any changes to their procedures, and make sure they have your current emergency contact information.

Remember that visitors are the biggest risk of infection for people in a care facility, so do not visit if you or anyone in or anyone in your household is sick or has signs of illness. If the facility decides to limit visitors or close to visitors altogether, talk with care providers about using other methods to stay in touch, like phone calls, video chats, email, or even letters.

If the patient isn’t capable of communicating remotely, check-in with the facility regularly to get updates on their condition.

Caring for Someone With Dementia During Coronavirus

If you’re a caregiver or have a family member with dementia, you may be concerned about keeping your loved one safe during the coronavirus outbreak. While caring for someone with dementia can be even more challenging during this time, by taking extra precautions, being careful with visitors, and helping them adjust to changes, you can help them stay healthy and reduce their stress until the crisis is over.

Ilima Loomis

Ilima Loomis

Ilima Loomis is a freelance writer and journalist who specializes in writing about health care, HR, science, travel, and Hawaii. You can find more of her work at Ilima is a regular contributor to the RxSaver blog.

The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.