Are people with dementia required to wear a face mask during the coronavirus pandemic?

It is compulsory in England for anyone aged 11 or over to wear a face covering on public transport and whilst visiting an NHS facility – and from July 24 this is extended to inside shops too.

Wearing a face mask helps stop the spread of coronavirus and reduces the risk of you catching coronavirus but the law says that if a person has a ‘reasonable excuse’ then they do not have to wear a face covering.

A face mask is also required on public transport in Northern Ireland and from July 27 in Wales. Although you are not required in Northern Ireland and Wales to wear a face covering in other enclosed spaces, such as shops, it is recommended.

What is a ‘reasonable excuse’ not to wear a face mask?

The requirement to wear a face mask does not apply to a person with dementia if they have a ‘reasonable excuse’, which could include the following:

  • Wearing a face mask would cause them severe distress
  • Someone with them needs to read their lips to communicate
  • They need to eat, drink or take medication
  • They cannot physically put on or wear a face covering

If you or someone you are with is challenged for not wearing a face mask, explain that they have dementia and can’t.

There are identity cards available which indicate that you have a hidden disability and have a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering. For example, the Alzheimer’s Society’s free helpcards can be useful to carry with you under such circumstances.

Some people like to wear a sunflower lanyard, which indicates hidden disabilities including dementia. These are becoming more popular and well-recognised in shops.

Alternatively, a letter from a GP or hospital consultant detailing the person’s dementia could help too.

Should a person with dementia wear a face mask?

It is best for everyone’s safety and wellbeing to follow the guidance and wear face masks when required but it is understandable that there will be circumstances when that is not possible. We know that there are good and bad days.

If wearing a face mask causes a person with dementia distress and anxiety, then this is a ‘reasonable excuse’ for the person not to cover their face.

The Alzheimer’s Society has an excellent blog on its website about the issues around face masks and dementia. It provides advice and things you can try to help the person with dementia feel comfortable wearing a mask.

It may be as simple as reminding the person about the coronavirus pandemic or trying different styles of mask. Try different materials that they are familiar with or consider using a clear visor, which means you can see each other’s faces.

Be patient, offer encouragement and reassurance. If wearing the mask will still cause the person distress and worry, then do not use a face mask and people will understand once you have explained the situation.

A face mask in a handbag.