It is likely that dementia itself does not increase the risk of catching COVID-19, instead it is more likely that it is a combination of dementia-related behaviours, increased age and common health conditions associated with dementia that increase the risk. For example, someone who has dementia is forgetful, therefore they may forget to wash their hands or wear their mask or take any other recommended precaution to keep themselves safe, therefore putting them at greater risk. As the UK attempts to return to some form of normality, it is important for carers to consider the risks and take additional safety precautions.
Tips for caring for a family member with dementia at home
Since you are not in a health care setting, it has some positives and negatives. The biggest positive being that you can keep the environment clean and control what (or who) is coming in and out, to some extent. For that reason, the risks are less. However, the con is that you are less connected with health care professionals and are probably more reluctant to utilise their services, if they are in fact available, so you may feel like you are not supported.
Looking for signs:
We have read a lot about carers feeling stressed in case the person they care for catches the virus and they are concerned that they will not be able to communicate their symptoms well and will therefore put themselves and others at risk. The truth is you do not always know that someone (healthy or not) has the virus until they are tested. You can still book remote appointments or seek medical advice over the phone. In the case of dementia, increased confusion is often the first symptom of any illness. If you notice this, possibly prior to the most classic symptoms of the virus, you should seek medical advice before going to hospital. Your GP may be able to manage this remotely and will tell you if there is a need to go into hospital.
In terms of managing risk, people with dementia will usually require more prompts and reminders to encourage them to carry out important hygiene practices. You could consider placing signs or post-it notes in the bathrooms or kitchen (or anywhere with a sink) to remind them to wash their hands and instructing them to do this for at least 20 seconds. You could also demonstrate how to wash your hands thoroughly and encourage them to mimic you. If hand washing is quite difficult, because of the many steps involved, you could keep hand sanitiser next to the sinks instead and it can be an easier alternative. You must make sure that it is alcohol based with at least 60% alcohol.
Speak to your doctor and pharmacist to ensure you have the most convenient routine in place. It may be possible that the doctor writes a longer prescription (3 months instead of 1 month) or you request your pharmacy to deliver the medication.
It is likely that appointments are cancelled, but it is important to think ahead and contact the service first. It may be that they can give you a new provisional date, which means you may not be waiting as long as you would have if the appointment was cancelled last minute. Also, by confirming if it is going ahead or not means you can plan your days accordingly. You should also request information on their new safety measures, so you are sure that you feel safe taking the person you are caring for there. You should also think ahead and have a back up plan should you fall ill.
Tips for supporting someone with dementia who receives home-based care
You may returning to work or feel that you are ready to bring back a dementia carer into the home, and it may feel daunting, but here are some tips to ensure you are keeping the person with dementia safe.
Firstly, contact the agency and ask them to explain their new safety measures and protocols to reduce the risk of catching COVID-19. If, and only if, you are happy with this should you proceed. Secondly, you can request a temperature reading before the carer enters your home, but you should inform the agency that you plan on doing this so that the carer is aware. You are also able to ask the carer if they have been exposed to anyone who has tested positive for the virus and if they say no you can refuse to let them in. Thirdly, ask the carer to wear a mask at all times. You could also wear a mask too to make the carer feel safe. Fourthly, ask the carer or health care professional to wash their hands as soon as they walk in and not to touch anything in between the door and the bathroom. If you would prefer not to allow them to use your bathroom (if it is a short visit, for example), then you should provide hand sanitiser that has at least 60% alcohol.
Tips for supporting someone with dementia who lives in a care-home
This one is difficult because you have a lot less control when you are not their primary carer, or they do not live in your home. Ultimately, the risk is higher for them, but most care homes have some very good protocols in place to help prevent cases of COVID-19 and to control the infection if it occurs.
If you want to make sure that your loved one is safe, you must check in with the care home regarding their procedures and if you are not happy with them you must communicate this to a senior member of staff. You can let them know your preferences too, for example in what situations you would like to be contacted and see if they can accommodate it. You must also respect their protocol, for example wearing a mask or gloves when entering or only meeting in the garden. Also, as hard as it may be, you must not visit if you are showing any signs or symptoms or have been in contact with anyone who has the virus. You must also respect the care home if they decide to suddenly stop visits for a short period of time. Engaging in video chats with your loved one instead is the safest and ‘for-sure’ method, if this is possible. You may be required to purchase a device, but some care homes will allow you to schedule a time to call and there will be a carer present for support.