Coronavirus (COVID-19): Tips for Dementia Caregivers

Most likely, dementia does not increase the risk for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus or the flu. However, dementia-related behaviors, increased age, and common health conditions that often accompany dementia may increase risk.

For example, people with Alzheimer disease and all other memory-related conditions may forget to wash their hands or take other recommended precautions to prevent illness. In addition, diseases like COVID-19 and the flu may worsen cognitive impairment due to dementia.

As communities and care services begin reopening, it is important for caregivers to consider the risks and take additional safety precautions for people living with dementia.

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Tips for dementia caregivers at home

Caregivers of individuals living with Alzheimer and all other dementia should follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and consider the following tips:

  • For people living with dementia, increased confusion is often the first symptom of any illness. If a person living with dementia shows rapidly increased confusion, contact your health care provider for advice. Unless the person is having difficulty breathing or a very high fever, it is recommended that you call your health care provider instead of going directly to an emergency room. Your doctor may be able to treat the person without a visit to the hospital.
  • People living with dementia may need extra and/or written reminders and support to remember important hygienic practices from one day to the next.
    • Consider placing signs in the bathroom and elsewhere to remind people with dementia to wash their hands with soap for 20 seconds.
    • Demonstrate thorough hand-washing.
    • Alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be a quick alternative to hand-washing if the person with dementia cannot get to a sink or wash his/her hands easily. 
    • Ask your pharmacist or doctor about filling prescriptions for a greater number of days to reduce trips to the pharmacy.
    • Think ahead and make alternative plans for the person with dementia should include adult daycare, respite, etc., be modified or canceled in response to COVID-19.
    • Think ahead and make alternative plans for care management if the primary caregiver should become sick.
    • Wear a face mask or cloth face covering. (Recommended personal protective equipment should be worn when personal care and medical services are being provided.)
    • Inform you if they are experiencing any fever symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or if they have been exposed to anyone with the virus. If so, they should not visit.
    • Wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds upon arrival and frequently throughout the day — especially after using the bathroom, before meals, and after coughing or sneezing.
    • Avoid eating at the same time as the person living with dementia.
    • In-home care services

Even when precautions are taken, any outside person entering your home increases the risk of spreading COVID-19. The risk of exposure is greater for individuals living with dementia, who tend to be older and have underlying health conditions.

To help reduce the risk associated with in-home care, it is essential that you require care providers to

        • Inform you if they are experiencing any fever symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or if they have been exposed to anyone with the virus. If so, they should not visit.
        • Wear a face mask or cloth face covering. (Recommended personal protective equipment should be worn when personal care and medical services are being provided.)
        • Wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds upon arrival and frequently throughout the day — especially after using the bathroom, before meals, and after coughing or sneezing.
        • Avoid eating at the same time as the person living with dementia.

Out-of-home or community-based care

  • At this time, out-of-home care options, such as adult day programs — which are communal by nature — aren’t safe for people living with dementia. People with dementia may have trouble following social distancing guidance and are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 due to age and other medical conditions. Adult daycare programs face significant challenges because attendees are cared for in close, group settings. ‘

                   You could also consider programs that offer virtual activities to encourage social engagement. Some services also provide meal delivery.

Considerations if your family member’s residential facility has an incidence of COVID-19

  • It is important to note that there are no simple answers, and, at this time, there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of your family member being exposed to COVID-19. However, there are some questions to consider if you are faced with this situation. The answers to these questions can help you make the best decision for your family.

Keeping the person in the facility

          • Ask the facility about their quarantine procedures. What is your level of confidence that CDC guidelines are being followed?
          • How many people in the facility have been impacted by COVID-19? Are those affected staff, residents, or both?
          • Is your family member able to follow social distancing procedures (with or without help)?
          • In some cases, the person may not be able to walk or move about on their own. This could help maintain social distancing.
          • Does the facility have and use personal protective equipment?
          • How many staff members interact with your family member on a regular basis? Is the facility able to limit the number of staff who work with your family member?
          • Is the facility adequately staffed to provide the level of care your family member requires?