There are an estimated 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, the majority of these are over the age of 65 and living with other health conditions. This can mean that they are more vulnerable to developing infections and experiencing severe symptoms. Here we provide some information about COVID-19 and dementia and some information about managing at this difficult time. We hope you find it useful.
Current UK Government restrictions have been put into place to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). These include social distancing measures such reducing the amount of time we spend in public spaces and keeping 2 meters apart from people outside of our homes. For some more vulnerable people measures involve “shielding”. This means not leaving the house unless for essential reasons such as a medical appointment. Living with dementia, and supporting loved ones with dementia, can be challenging. Therefore such restrictions may make day to day life difficult for those living with dementia, and their families and carers.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a highly contagious respiratory virus; common symptoms include a high temperature, dry cough, loss of smell or taste, and it may cause shortness of breath. For someone with dementia, delirium can also be a common symptom.
Vulnerable people such as those living with respiratory disorders, high blood pressure or diabetes, and everyone over the age of 70 have been asked to stay at home as much as possible. This measure will ensure people at high risk of developing more severe symptoms of covid-19 are kept safe.
If you, or someone you live with develops symptoms you must self-isolate for 14 days. This is a vital measure that will help to contain the virus and not spread it to others.
COVID-19 and dementia
If you are the primary care giver for someone living with dementia, you are still able to do this under current guidelines.
However, at this current time non-carers cannot go to visit their loved ones if they are shielding, and this may include those living with dementia. This is understandably difficult. There are steps you can take to try best support someone from your own home. Make sure they have your contact number and are comfortable using the phone to stay in contact. You can give them a list of numbers for other friends, family members, and their doctor for example so they can call on people if they are worried.
It can be difficult to explain self-isolation, social distancing and hand washing to someone with dementia, as they can struggle with complex information. Make sure any instructions are clear and repeated often so they do not get agitated and know how to keep themselves safe. Sometimes leaving notes for people in places around their homes can serve as a reminder.
People with dementia in their own homes may already feel isolated, and further self-isolation may make this worse. Make sure care plans are in place, and anyone providing care or support is doing so safely and within government guidelines. Stay connected by calling often or writing letters and try to encourage exercise and hobbies within the person’s home.
Tracking COVID-19 in those most at risk: A new way for everyone to join the world’s largest COVID-19 study
The over-70s and people with preexisting health conditions, such as dementia, appear to be most at risk from the effects of COVID-19.
A smartphone app called the COVID-19 Symptom Tracker has been developed by King’s College London and health science company ZOE. It is endorsed by the Welsh Government, NHS Wales, the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland. More than 2.5 million people have downloaded the smartphone app and are using it to regularly report on their health. This will allow scientists to understand more about the symptoms and spread of the virus in the population. It is the largest public science project of its kind anywhere in the world.
Yet people over the age of 70 and with pre-existing health conditions are significantly under-represented in the group of people currently using the app. Early analysis shows that the illness may start with different symptoms in these groups, such as diarrhoea and confusion, rather than the classic cough and fever. So in order for scientists and doctors to really understand how the virus affects the more vulnerable people in society, we need the support of the public more than ever to download the app and take part.
Anyone can join the study by downloading the simple, free COVID Symptom Tracker app from covid.joinzoe.com and answering a few questions about their health and medications. Participants then spend a minute checking in every day, whether they are feeling physically healthy or experiencing any new symptoms. For someone living with dementia, a loved one or carer can download the app and report on their behalf.
Research is vital for overcoming any medical condition, and Alzheimer’s Research UK are pleased to able to support the COVID-19 Symptom Tracker app, which could also provide crucial information about how COVID-19 affects people with dementia. We encourage anyone who is currently caring for someone with dementia to help log daily symptom reports, with their loved one's consent, if they need support.
Need further information?
You can a list of organisations offering help, advice, information and support for people living with dementia and their carers here.
If you would like further information about dementia and Covid-19, including signposting to other useful organisations you can call our Dementia Infoline on 0300 111 5 111 Monday-Friday (9-5pm) or email firstname.lastname@example.org