Caring for someone living with dementia in the community

On this page:

Physical distancing

Coronavirus is spread easily between people and not everyone with coronavirus infection has obvious symptoms. The Provincial Health Officer, Bonnie Henry, has therefore ordered that B.C. citizens must adhere to physical distancing

  • This means avoiding any non-essential interactions with people outside of your household.
  • This is particularly important when it comes to older adults, who are most likely to experience significant or critical symptoms as a result of the coronavirus. 
  • Whenever possible, families should look at alternatives to providing support and care in person – for example meal delivery services, dropping off groceries at the doorstep, checking-in by phone or Skype - to minimize risk of exposure. 

If there is an essential visit to drop off groceries or medications, or provide care, family caregivers should follow protocols outlined on the BC CDC website to reduce the likelihood of transmission to protect themselves and others. This includes:

  • Frequent handwashing.
  • Maintaining physical distances of two metres (six feet).
  • Disinfecting every surface that you touch.
  • Not providing care or assistance if you are experiencing even mild symptoms.

Visiting someone living with dementia in their home

Before COVID-19, many family members and friends were supporting people living with dementia and their caregivers in their own homes. This support may have come in the form of social visits and wellness checks, delivery of groceries and medicines, household chores and maintenance, meal prep or delivery of meals, care for the person living with dementia and respite for the primary caregiver. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to make changes to how we live our daily lives and puts limitations on the interactions that we should have with each other. 

Many friends and family members find themselves in a frustrating dilemma: wanting to provide care and support, while knowing that these interactions may expose the person to COVID-19. Not being able to provide care to someone in the same way that you were before can cause grief, guilt and worry. On the other hand, protecting family members and friends from exposure to COVID-19 is vital. This predicament may feel like an emotional “tug-of-war.”

Remind yourself:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented and was unexpected. You are doing the best you can and cancelling all non-essential in-person contact is the best way to protect family and friends. 
  • There are other ways to connect. While a Skype or Zoom call may not be as good as getting a hug or having a cup of tea together, there is zero chance of transmitting the virus to each other online. Technology provides a safe way to visit, check-in, and stay connected.

Each family’s situation is unique, and the needs and risk must be weighed by family members to determine the level of necessary and essential help required in the home. 

  • Do not visit if you have any symptoms. 
  • Have only one person visit if necessary. Have a back-up plan in case this person becomes ill. 
  • Minimize exposure: leave groceries, medications, meals at the door or deliver frozen meals once a week instead of fresh meals daily. 
  • Take precautionary measures to reduce the spread of the virus: follow all recommended handwashing protocols, wear a mask and gloves if available, wipe all surfaces you touch including doorknobs and light switches and stay two metres apart from each other.
  • Limit the time spent in the home.

Maintaining physical distancing protocols during visits

People living with dementia may have difficulty with the concepts of physical distancing. They may forget these practices are required or they may not have the logic or judgment skills to enable them to see the severity of the current situation or the need for safe distances. 

If it is essential to visit a family member during this time, be extra diligent to maintain safe physical distancing and take action to prevent the spread of the virus. 

  • Try to prevent all unnecessary physical contact, including hugs or shaking hands. It can be incredibly hard not to give affection to the people we care about, especially if you are normally accustomed to physical contact, but this is a key piece in preventing the spread of the virus. 
  • Put your hand out and say, “Stop” to prevent physical contact, then gently explain that you don’t want to risk spreading the illness. What you say and how much you say will depend on the person’s knowledge, understanding and memory of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
    • If the person is unaware of the COVID-19 pandemic it may be enough to say, “Mom, I’m worried I might give you a cold.”
    • If the person has knowledge of current events, consider what response will give them the most reassurance and sense of safety. You could say, “Dad, I want to make sure that we both stay healthy, so I’d like to suggest we take all necessary precautions to keep us both safe.”
  • Try to only touch what is necessary to do the task you are there to do. Ensure that you clean every surface and item you touch before and after using, including light switches and door handles. 
  • If asking the person to repeatedly wash their hands is causing them stress, ask them to help you with a task that will require them to put their hands in soapy water. You could say: “Mom, since I can only be here for a few minutes today, let’s try and get some things done together. We could start by washing up the dishes. If you wash, I will dry.” 
  • If an in-home visit is necessary, only one person should be visiting. Identifying a back-up person is also useful in case the first caregiver becomes ill.

Home support worker visits

Many non-essential in-home care services have been scaled back during COVID-19 but there are individuals who would be at risk if they were not to receive home care. Minimum essential care levels will have to remain in place for many people.

Home support workers are well trained in procedures to minimize the transmission of infectious disease; however, many people may still have anxiety around welcoming external people into the home. 

  • You can ask about the organization’s infection control protocol and ask workers to wash their hands or take other appropriate measures upon entering the home.
  • Consult with case managers and doctors to assess the risk and determine the need for home care during the current situation.
  • Primary caregivers in the home will benefit from learning about caregiving strategies and receiving support if the need for them to take on care responsibilities increases, and our period of physical distancing/isolation continues.

Keeping in contact with loved ones from a distance

It can be incredibly difficult to not be allowed to maintain regular visits with your loved one, but there are many alternative modes of communication to keep in touch.

  • Stay in contact with family and friends over the phone, and if you can, make use of face-to-face technology such as FaceTime or Skype.
  • If the person living with dementia is more confused or tired at certain times of the day try to schedule calls when they will be alert and engaged.
  • If there are times of the day when they become anxious or agitated, try to schedule calls at a time when the person may need reassurance. 

Additional resources 

Consider contacting the First Link® Dementia Helpline for information and support. In addition to crucial emotional support and a listening ear, callers can access information about living with dementia during COVID-19 including practical strategies on a variety of topics, such as behavioural and communication challenges.

  • English: 1-800-936-6033 (9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday)
  • Punjabi: 1-833-674-5003 (9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday)
  • Cantonese or Mandarin: 1-833-674-5007 (9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday)

Further support is available through our webinars, which are held every week. Register for our upcoming webinars on our website or explore our recorded videos which are available 24/7 to learn about many more topics related to caregiving for a person living with dementia. Previous topics that may be of particular help include:


Last Updated: 05/07/2020