Advice for people with dementia around face coverings

July 24, 2020

Our Helpline Admiral Nurse, Rachel Watson, advises families with dementia on what to do around the changing guidance with face coverings

Face coverings can be used to limit the spread of coronavirus through air droplets when people cough, sneeze or talk. There is evidence to show that they can reduce the spread of the virus in people who are contagious but whose symptoms have not developed yet, if at all.

Dementia UK’s  Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline has taken many calls already from families around how they can get their relative to wear a face covering. Many families have reported feelings of anxiety, particularly around what’s going to happen if they cannot get their relative to wear one and if they will be fined.

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Rachel Watson outlines some of the questions the Helpline is getting as well as offering guidance and reassurance on this:

What is the current guidance?

Face coverings are currently compulsory on public transport and by customers in shops, supermarkets, shopping centres in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information, please visit the Government website. Note that the advice is that you’re permitted to go outside of the home for an essential reason (I.e. shopping, a medical appointment).

In an ideal scenario, everyone should wear a covering but there may be some cases where a person may have pre-existing health conditions which exempt them from wearing one. Do as much as you can and remember that you are best placed to know what is most manageable and safe for you and your relative.

Why might my relative with dementia be struggling with wearing a face covering?

They could be struggling with a number of issues which is important for you as a family carer to be mindful of. The texture and feel of the covering could be causing discomfort and they may not remember why a face covering is important.

Look at different ways to reduce any feelings of anxiety by trying different styles and textures. You could create a covering from a favourite scarf, or even get them involved in making one themselves from fabrics. This could develop into a fun activity and help them to wear it more as they’ve been part of the process of making one.

Have a think about where you are encouraging them to put on a covering as well. Doing this in public may heighten feelings of stress so you can try putting it on at home which may be a lot calmer and allows the person with dementia to do it at their own pace.

What to do if I can’t get my relative with dementia to wear a covering?

Try putting your covering on in front of the person with dementia and encouraging them to mirror you doing this. This might help the person living with dementia feel reassured. You may need to keep reminding the person why they need to wear the face covering and using simple and clear language can help with this. For example, avoiding the word pandemic and using the words virus or infection instead. When we are supporting people living with dementia we often use their previous experiences to help explain the here and now, so it might help to make reference to a previous infection such as the flu.

If you’ve tried everything and your relative won’t wear a face covering, remember that there are other precautions you can take to reduce the risk of the virus. This can include social distancing (i.e. staying at a two-metre distance wherever possible) in addition to regular hand-washing, and only going out for the essential reasons as per the guidance, such as for food, exercise or a medical appointment.

You can have a look at the government’s downloadable cards here which can highlight that you or your relative are exempt from wearing a face covering due to a cognitive impairment such as dementia. This can be carried on public transport and while you’re out.

People with dementia can feel like they are the only people going through a specific problem, but our Admiral Nurses are there for them to validate their feelings, reassure them and to help them live as comfortably and safely as possible in this ‘new normal.’

For further advice and information, please contact 0800 888 6678 or

Download government face covering card

These cards highlight that you or your relative are exempt from wearing a face covering due to a cognitive impairment such as dementia

Download now

Dementia Helpline

Contact our Helpline if you have any questions or concerns about dementia

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Coronavirus information hub

Here are things you can do to look after yourself, and someone with dementia

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