Information for family, whānau, carers and/or supporters of people with dementia who are living at home on how to stay well during COVID-19.
Last updated: 14 August 2020
View the latest information about health and disability services at the following levels.
On this page:
- Families and whānau living with a person with dementia
- Supporting a person with dementia who lives alone
- Supporting a person with dementia who is a confirmed (or probable) case of COVID-19
- More information
Living with dementia at any time has it challenges. The requirements and changes that have resulted from the response to COVID-19 can add additional stress and pressure. This page provides information for family, whānau, carers and/or supporters of people with dementia who are living at home.
At Alert Level 1 the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and transmission in the New Zealand community is very low. We need to be aware that COVID-19 is still uncontrolled overseas and we should not be complacent because COVID-19 can still spread quickly if it re-emerges.
Families and whānau living with a person with dementia
For information about COVID-19 refer to Health advice for the general public.
Prepare an emergency support plan
- If you don’t already have one, prepare an emergency support plan with support from friends or whānau if required.
- Your emergency support plan should include essential information to help you and the person you care for if your routine is disrupted. See the My Emergency Support Plan template (PDF, 446 KB) from Alzhemiers New Zealand.
- Contact your general practice or Healthline 0800 358 5453 should you feel unwell.
Explaining COVID-19 to a person with dementia
- Keep explanations simple, perhaps refer to COVID-19 as ‘the new virus’ or see the Easy Read sheets.
- Write down a short explanation about ‘the new virus’ and leave it where the person can read it.
- Limit the person’s exposure to repetitive news about COVID-19.
Your day-to-day needs
Keeping a healthy household
- Put signs with pictures in the bathroom and/or toilet reminding everyone to wash their hands with soap. Posters can be found at COVID-19 resources.
- Stand next to the person and wash your hands at the same time to encourage them or soap each other’s hands for 20 seconds.
- Assist with understanding of physical distancing requirements by using the length of a familiar object to demonstrate one or two metres.
Looking after yourself and keeping connected
- It is important that you take care of yourself. By doing so you will be able to continue to provide support to someone else.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating well, getting adequate rest and sleep, and try to remain as physically active as you can.
- Further suggestions for looking after yourself, for keeping connected and for activities to try, are found on the Alzheimers New Zealand website.
- Your local dementia/Alzheimers organisations, are also there to support you.
Supporting a person with dementia
Identifying changes in a person with dementia
- Try and maintain the usual routines and activities as much as possible. For people with dementia, changes to routines and activities could lead to further decline in memory, understanding and other cognitive problems.
- This deterioration can then result in poor understanding of hygiene needs, lack of cooperation with care and support and conflict with care partners. Clear and simple explanations will help reduce stress.
- At Alert Level 1 you should encourage patients with dementia, to re-connect with family and friends, to participate in activities, such as having short outings and walks.
What to do if the person you support is unusually restless and unsettled
- Do your best to stay calm. Listen to the person, without arguing with them.
- Comfort and reassure the person using touch and words. Pets or animals may also be reassuring. If there are no animals at home, you can find calming nature videos online.
- Consider what might be causing the person to feel that way. Are they hungry, thirsty, or tired? Do they want to go to the toilet?
- Double check that they have taken their prescribed medications.
- Engage them in an enjoyable or calming activity. You know them best, so use strategies that you know makes them happy.
- Reach out to the people who make your family and whānau feel safe and loved, or who support you.
When to seek medical help
- Seek medical help immediately if there is a sudden change in the person’s level of alertness, upset in their day-night sleeping pattern, or they are having troubling hallucinations. Any sudden symptoms or change in behaviour could indicate delirium.
- Contact your general practice or Healthline 0800 358 5453 if you are concerned about these and any other changes to the person’s physical and/or cognitive health.
Under Alert Level 1, supports such as planned and urgent respite, home support (eg, cleaning), personal cares (eg, showering) and day services will operate at their full scope with adherence to Alert Level 1 public health measures.
If you are concerned about the person’s wellbeing, or feel that their needs have changed, please contact the person’s general practice or local NASC to discuss options. You can find a list of local NASC on the NASCA website.
Minimising distress and anxiety
- Maintain or develop regular routines for daily, or if required, more frequent checks and support.
- Provide a written explanation of what will be happening when support workers come into the house, including instructions for who to allow in and how the person checks their identity. If you find out they will be wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), ask them to phone immediately before the visit to prepare the person. You might do this by showing the person a picture of what support workers are likely to look like.
- Ensure the person knows how to contact family, friends or their general practice for help if they become unwell or distressed.
At Alert Level 1 the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and transmission in the New Zealand community is very low, however there is still a risk of isolated household cases. The following provides guidance if a person with dementia is confirmed to have COVID-19 at Alert Level 1.
- Where possible every effort should be made to keep the person with dementia at home in their familiar environment, where their health allows this.
- The NASC will liaise with community services (eg, community nursing and/or home support agencies) to support the person and their family and whānau at home.
- COVID-19 symptoms may result in increased confusion and decreased functioning.
- There also may be increased risk of falls, continence issues, loss of appetite and greater intensity of care needed. Caring at home may not be possible depending on the severity of the illness.
If you have concerns about your health, speak to a doctor.
Alzheimers New Zealand
- COVID-19: Information for people affected by dementia
- Member organisations’ contact details
- Other important services/support