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Posted on Apr 24 2020 by Jo Lehmann

How to talk about Coronavirus to people living with dementia

The COVID-19 pandemic is a challenging and unprecedented situation. While people diagnosed with dementia should be avoiding any unnecessary social interaction in order to protect their physical health, the reduction in contact can have a negative effect on mental wellbeing.

Dr Inga Stewart, Consultant Clinical Psychologist at St Andrew's Healthcare, has some advice on how to support people living with dementia, and how best to talk about the virus with them.

"The routines that usually comfort and support people with dementia are likely be disrupted at the moment. People living with the condition may not be able to do the activities they usually do, or speak to family members and loved ones; this may result in some changes in behaviour, and bring additional stress to carers who are supporting them.

“Where possible, establish a daily routine - this may be drastically different to the one that you usually have, but try and find a new normal. Routines can provide much needed structure, comfort and purpose. Try to keep minds occupied, with a mix of activities and time to rest. To ensure people still are as independent as possible, offer them choices to promote areas of control. Many of us are finding our sleep disrupted. Establishing a good regular nighttime routine is just as important as how we spend our days. Think about ways to relax and unwind in the evenings, and ensure bedrooms are inviting and cue people in to it being ‘bedtime’.

“Focus on safe hygiene for yourself and the person with memory problems. To help, consider a handwashing routine, or a sign in the bathroom reminding them to wash their hands for 20 seconds.

“Try and explain the situation in a way the individual can understand. Don't overdo it; they may not need to know all the facts, just what they can do to keep safe and well. Focus on reassuring the individual that this situation will not go on forever. They may need this same information repeating, but retelling the same key messages may help. It may be beneficial to minimise the amount of news coverage the individual is exposed to, and keep distressing programmes to a minimum. 

“Plan ahead; if you can, think ahead to ensure you have everything you need to keep to routine. Remember that food orders and prescription requests may take a little longer to receive than usual.

“It is important to remember that it is completely normal for any of us to feel anxious at this time. When we feel anxious it's natural to want to be with loved ones who can offer comfort and being unable to see them can be very difficult. To stay in touch consider using video calls, or perhaps write a letter, which is often a forgotten way to communicate with people. Looking through current and old photos is also a lovely activity, which can help people to recall family events and happy times.”