COVID-19: Supporting a person with dementia at home

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: 15 August 2020

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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 on how to stay well under Alert Levels 3, 2 and 1.

This information should be read alongside other information provided for carers that can be found in the COVID-19 section or on the Unite against COVID-19 website.


Families and whānau living with a person with dementia

Please 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 Alzheimers 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.
  • Masks and face coverings can help reduce the spread of COVID-19. The COVID-19 website has information on when to wear a mask or face covering at the different alert levels.

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, along with your general practice, are still available by phone and/or email. 

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.
  • To reduce the impact of social isolation on the person with dementia, consider ways that they can remain connected to family and friends.

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 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.

Supporting a person with dementia who lives alone

  • If the person with dementia is known, their local district health board or Needs Assessment and Service Coordination (NASC agency should be in regular contact with them during Alert Levels 3 and 4 while support services are reprioritised to monitor the health and wellbeing of the person.
  • The person you are supporting may also be receiving home and community support services such as medications, meal prompts and/or daily personal cares.
  • 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. You could do this via email.
  • Ensure the person knows how to contact family, friends or their general practice for help if they become unwell or distressed.

Supporting a person with dementia who is a confirmed (or probable) case of COVID-19

  • 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.
  • See the COVID-19 Guidance for admissions into aged residential care facilities for information about admissions to the aged residential sector.

More information

For the latest advice, information and resources, go to the COVID-19 section or Unite against COVID-19 website.

If you have concerns about your health, speak to a doctor.

Alzheimers New Zealand

Dementia New Zealand

Carers New Zealand

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