Skip to content

How to support people with dementia during covid

Published on 14 May 2020 11:37 AM

Anxiety about the coronavirus pandemic is taking an emotional toll on most of us, but it is particularly stressful for people with dementia and their carers. Our brilliant trustee, neuroscientist Catherine Loveday, a Professor at the University of Westminster, offers her tips for supporting people with memory problems and dementia during this worrying time.

'I have come up with specific ways that you can support your loved ones throughout the pandemic if they have dementia, mild cognitive impairment or other memory problems,' says Catherine. 'The list is not comprehensive and different things will work for different people, depending on whether they are living with someone or trying to support from a distance.'

Watch our engaging video where Catherine talks through some excellent strategies - and below read Catherine's at-a-glance guide. We hope you find this advice useful - and please get in touch with us on info@ageukbarnet.org.uk if you have any tips we can add to the list. 

 

 

Routine

This is important because:

  • Our bodies and brains follow a natural day / night rhythm and are negatively affected when this gets disrupted (we may even feel unwell)
  • In dementia (and to some extent older age), the brain loses control of these rhythms and is less reliable so we are more dependent on external signals to tell us what time of day it is (light / dark, mealtimes etc)
  • During the current pandemic, there are fewer reference points because there is less variation during the day (no visits, trips, weekly sessions etc)
  • Sleep is heavily dependent on regular routines and sleep is vital for physical health and optimum memory function
  • There is more anxiety and uncertainty at the moment – regular predictable routines can provide comfort
  • People may need to be more independent in terms of taking their medication or preparing their own meals etc. – routine helps because habitual memory tends to be very powerful even in people with memory problems
Things you can do include:
  • Have fixed “anchor points” in the day – encourage/enable regular mealtimes, listen to / watch regular radio / TV programmes, phone at the same time each day/week, take medication with regular morning cup of tea etc
  • Use calendars, dairies and easy-to-read-clocks; encourage people to look at these regularly and ideally have a “today” marker
  • Mark the week with one or more regular distinctive activities if possible, e.g. replace church with an online service or prayer time; or a regular tea & cakes meet-up with tea and cakes and a phone call (NB if it is possible for these activities to happen in a different room this will also help to mark it out as a distinctive event)

Social Connection

This is important because:

The current pandemic is making people feel more cut off but:

  • Humans are naturally social and we are primed to seek out other people when we feel distressed, anxious or unsafe
  • Having conversations provides connection with the world and helps us to feel grounded
  • Loneliness and isolation have been linked with poor mental and physical health, and lower immunity
Things you can do include:
  • Make regular phone calls
  • Experiment with technology to see whether face contact (Skype/ Facetime/ Zoom) is possible, but bear in mind that more than one speaker may be overwhelming
  • Send emails and/or letters but avoid long sentences
  • Let them lead conversations and make an effort to listen, respond and engage meaningfully
  • Make a conscious effort not to rush or speak too quickly (this is a habit that many of us have got into in the modern world but it can be hard to process and some people zone out)
  • Be ready to tell stories about your day or to reminisce about things that you know they enjoy speaking about
  • Don’t correct people on their memory unless it really matters; if you find it difficult or irritating it is often easier to move to a new topic
  • Where there is an important message that you want to go in, repeat many times in as many different forms as you can by dropping it into conversation regularly
  • Remember that it doesn’t have to be you - any form of social connection is valuable so ask others to call / write
  • Use the radio, TV, music, art or poetry
  • Humour and comedy can work particularly well for some

How to speak about COVID

  • Don’t bring it up unless you have an important message to convey
  • Let them lead
  • Keep things simple and stick to the facts – it may be tempting to rant about your views on how things are being handled but this just introduces anxiety and uncertainty
  • Look for the positives and focus on these where possible
  • Repeat important messages (eg hand-washing, social distancing) and if possible make sure this is demonstrated frequently so that it becomes habit

Practical and psychological support

Physical wellbeing has a big impact on the brain and memory functioning so focus on trying to ensure:

  • Regular healthy meals
  • Regular sleep (napping is ok but not too late in the day)
  • Reducing anxiety and stress – through social connection, routine, and activities
  • Be present – find activities that the person finds engaging and meaningful
  • Being immersed in an activity reduces stress and reduces the confusion caused by memories that may be confused or not make sense
  • An engaging activity is usually one that presents the ideal amount of challenge, i.e. not too easy to be boring and not too complex to give up
  • These include painting, knitting, jigsaws, simple card games, colouring

Reminisce – find ways to connect with the “safe” parts of people's past

Music, photos, objects, and even clothing can be excellent prompts

Old familiar films or favourite old comedy shows

Encourage writing for those that feel comfortable with this

 

Additional Resources/links

Music for Dementia musical guide 

Alzheimers UK - advice on how to get support 

Alzheimers UK - tips for dementia care