Dementia and Face Masks, how does it work?

In this article, we consider people with dementia and wearing face masks. We know it’s important for everyone who can to wear a face-covering at the moment. However, for those that have problems with their memory, or just don’t understand why we have to wear face coverings, it can be very stressful.

Helping loved ones living with dementia adjust to face coverings

Because memory is a problem a constant reminder about wearing a face mask will be necessary. However, it can be easier to remind someone with dementia by retelling the context.   That they are protecting themselves and others. That this part of the nationwide effort in the lockdown. Remind them also that we are all in lockdown. That the face coverings in public are to protect and look after one another.

If your loved one is independent and goes to the shops by themselves, a visual reminder by the front door might be helpful. An image of the face masks could remind them to check if they have their face masks in their pocket ready to use.

What to do if a loved one living with dementia refuses to wear a face-covering

Encouraging a loved one to wear a face-covering may be difficult. They may not understand what has happened during the pandemic and may find wearing a covering over their face and nose strange.

The symptoms of dementia usually include confusion, memory loss and anxiety. These increase in severity as someone progresses to the later stages of their condition. This combined with the change of life can be very frightening to someone living with dementia. Here are some ways to support someone with dementia wearing face masks:

Use non-medical face coverings

Medical looking masks are light blue and may cause someone with dementia to associate them with going to the doctors or the dentist. This may bring up negative memories and make them feel more anxious.

There are lots of different face masks designs out there, which are being sold by most retailers. From different coloured fabrics to parents with characters printed on them. You could even try making your own home-made masks together as a way to involve your loved one in the process and normalise face coverings.

Checking for Comfort

The material of their face mask may not be comfortable. It might be too tight around their ears or their face. When buying or making face masks, try to choose one made from cotton instead of synthetic materials. It’s also helpful if your loved one can try their mask on at home and make sure it’s comfortable before wearing it out and about.

Offer Reassurance

Whether they always lower their face mask or forget why they need to wear one, it’s important that you’re always there to offer them support and reassurance. This is important if they’re worried about their breathing or that they won’t be able to communicate with others. Remind them that it’s for everyone’s safety but that as soon as they get outside into an open space, they can take their face mask off – and perhaps sit outside their favourite café for a coffee and slice of cake.

There may for a very real reason for them refusing to wear a face covering. They make have a bad memory or a deep-rooted fear. Talk to them gently and patiently.

Remember: if your loved one becomes too upset or distressed and you have tried to encourage them to wear a face covering, they don’t have to wear a face-covering as per Government Guidelines. You can read our blog on exemption guidelines for more information.


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