Our lives have completely changed over the last five months, but we are slowly returning to how life was before the coronavirus. The latest and most dramatic regulations update is the wearing of face coverings across the UK in indoor public places. On 24th July, it was made mandatory to wear a face covering in supermarkets, retail shops, banks, health and beauty facilities, including hairdressers and barbers, places of worship, leisure facilities, and anywhere where maintaining social distancing is difficult.
It’s taken time for everyone to adjust to these new rules, and for some people, such as those with dementia or who find it difficult to communicate, it has been an incredibly challenging time. So, how can we ensure our elderly loved ones comply with wearing a mask, and what can we do to help them understand why this is important?
Who is exempt from wearing a mask?
Not everyone needs to wear a mask. According to the Government guidelines, there are some groups of people that are exempt from wearing a face covering:
- Those unable to put on or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental disability
- Where putting on or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
- If you care for or are assisting someone who relies on lipreading
- When exercising and wearing a mask would stop you doing this safely
For those that are worried about being asked why they are not wearing a face covering when entering a shop or supermarket, there are exemption templates you can download and print or keep on a mobile device so that you can show to anyone who may ask why you or a loved one is not wearing a mask. This can give you peace of mind that you won’t come under scrutiny for not wearing a face covering.
How to ensure elderly loved ones understand why wearing face masks is important
For those that have problems with their memory, or just don’t understand why we need to wear coronavirus face masks, it may mean that you need to gently remind your loved one each time you go out to remember to take a face covering with them and wear it in enclosed spaces.
It’s important to remember not to lie to them or embellish the facts; tell them how wearing a mask protects others, and this is the reason why collectively we all need to wear face coverings for the time being. You could remind them of the nationwide effort of being in lockdown for several months, and that wearing a face mask in public is an extension of that, helping us all to protect and look after each other unitedly.
Perhaps you could put a visual reminder by their front door if they are independent and like to go to the shops by themselves. An image of a face mask could remind them to check they have their face covering in their pocket ready to use.
Advice on what to do if an elderly family member with dementia refuses to wear a mask
It may be quite difficult to encourage your elderly loved one to wear a mask when they’re out and about, and this may be particularly difficult if they are living with dementia. They may not really understand what has happened during the pandemic and find wearing something covering their face and nose very strange and something only medical professionals normally do.
The symptoms of dementia usually include confusion, memory loss and anxiety, with these increasing in severity as someone progresses to the later stages of their condition. Combine this with a complete change of life as we know it, and this can be absolutely terrifying for someone with dementia. That being said, there are ways that you can support someone with dementia with wearing a face covering if they refuse:
Use non-medical face coverings
Medical looking masks that are light blue in colour may cause someone with dementia to associate them with going to the doctors or dentist, and possibly bring up negative memories that may make them feel even more anxious. There are lots of different face masks designs out there which are being sold by most retailers. From different coloured fabrics to patterns with favourite characters adorned on them, there is something for everyone. You could even try making your own home-made masks together – a great way to involve your loved one in the process and also normalise face masks in general.
Check if their face mask is comfortable
The material of their face mask may not be very comfortable, or may be too tight around their ears and face. When buying or making face coverings, try to choose masks made from cotton instead of synthetic materials and ensure they try their face masks on at home first before taking a trip to the shops.
Always offer reassurance
Whether they persistently lower their covering or forget why they need to wear one, it’s vital that you’re always there to offer them support and reassurance, especially if they are worried that their breathing will be restricted 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 be a very real and legitimate reason for them refusing to wear a face covering, perhaps because of a bad memory they have or a deep-rooted fear. Talk to them and gently ask them how they’re feeling and find out what’s causing them distress.
Remember: if your loved one becomes too upset or distressed and you have tried several times to encourage them to wear a face covering, they don’t have to wear a face mask as per Government guidelines.