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New research underlines the importance of adapting and simplifying public health measures for people with dementia

Tuesday 20 April 2021

Since March 2020, public health measures designed to prevent COVID-19 transmission have become the "new normal" for many countries in Europe. Ranging from mask wearing and enhanced handwashing to full lockdown and shielding, these measures have successfully reduced the spread of COVID-19. As the COVID-19 pandemic waxes and wanes, so, too, have the public health measures designed to limit its spread; countries have moved from full lockdown, to the reopening of shops and businesses, then back again when case numbers rise once more.

The ever-changing nature of public health measures against COVID-19 can make them hard to comprehend for people with cognitive deficits, such as people living with dementia. In a study published on 20 April in BMC Public Health, Dr Clarissa Giebel, Prof. Mark Gabbay and colleagues interviewed unpaid carers and people living with dementia, exploring their understanding and adherence to COVID-19 public health restrictions.

Interviewing 50 unpaid carers and 8 people with dementia in April-July 2020, the researchers identified five key themes, including confusion & limited comprehension; putting oneself in danger; and adherence to restrictions in wider society. Many carers perceived a lack of comprehension of the public health measures in the person with dementia they care for, which often caused distress or frustration. People with dementia who didn't have a good comprehension of restrictions did not always comply with them, occasionally placing themselves in dangerous situations and increasing carer stress. Conversely, when people with dementia had a good comprehension of public health measures they were able to comply with them. Together, these findings indicate that in the more advanced stages of dementia, people can find it hard to retain new and frequently-changing information about public health measures. Public health measures should be implemented in a way that improves comprehension by people with dementia, for example by providing more frequent reminders, in appropriate language.