Caring for seniors living with dementia during COVID-19

Physical distancing is now part of every day life, but it can be particularly challenging for seniors living with dementia and their caregivers.

Dr. Mark Fok, clinical assistant professor of geriatric medicine in the UBC faculty of medicine, answers some questions and offers practical tips for those caring for seniors with dementia during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Dr. Mark Fok

Dr. Mark Fok

Does dementia increase a person’s risk of getting COVID-19?

Dementia, in and of itself, does not increase the risk of contracting COVID-19. However, people with dementia may forget to follow the recommended public health measures, such as frequently washing their hands or practising physical distancing, which may increase their risk.

What’s the best way to remind seniors with dementia about the public health measures in place?

While seniors with dementia may be aware of COVID-19, they are more likely to forget to follow the recommended public health measures. If you are a caregiver, it’s important to provide frequent reminders. Call to remind them to “stay at home so you don’t get sick,” or place sticky-notes on the fridge that will prompt them to “wash hands.” Keep the messages consistent, clear and simple.

My family member has dementia and I check on them twice a day. Should I stop visiting them during the outbreak?

It’s important to maintain contact with family members who live with dementia. Ideally, this can be done by phone or Skype, FaceTime or Zoom. Practically, however, this may not always be possible, as people with dementia often rely on family members to manage basic tasks.

If you must visit a person with dementia to drop off groceries or check in, remember to wash your hands thoroughly before and after visiting, consider wearing a face mask during the visit, maintain physical distancing of two metres where possible, keep visits short and don’t visit if you feel sick.

For seniors living with dementia who are uncomfortable with technology, what are some other ways to stay connected during this time?

Think outside the box about creative ways to connect. Get back to basics: make a phone call, handwrite a letter or card, or send a photo. Kids can get involved, too, by drawing pictures or writing cards. If the senior lives in a long-term care facility, the care team can also help with suggestions about facilitating these connections.

Families and caregivers can also find tips on how to stay connected with seniors in the UBC faculty of medicine’s special edition of Pathways: Connecting with Compassion and Care.

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