How to Get Someone with Dementia to Wear a Face Mask

Try these tips to make face mask-wearing more comfortable for seniors living with dementia.

Stack of face masks

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My mom (mid-stage Alzheimer’s) absolutely hates wearing face masks.  She can be pretty dramatic (and loud) about declaring how she “can’t breathe”.

I get it. They’re hot and stuffy and damp and bleh.

Initially, I did a terrible job preparing her for the face mask. I thought I had covered face mask necessity. I thought we were ready. Apparently not, as the situation escalated into a battle in the doctor’s office that first day.

It wasn’t one of my finer caregiver moments.

Since then I’ve been trying various strategies to make mask-wearing easier for Mom and wanted to share them with you just in case your loved one isn’t a mask loving senior.

Are there any of those?

Dementia face mask review

  • Even if you think your senior remembers the reason for face masks, review before going out – it helps everyone stay safe, it’s a rule, and it’s polite. 

Each time we go out we have a COVID review before leaving home. Sometimes Mom remembers and sometimes … not. If it’s one of those days she can’t remember, I try to keep it simple. I tell her there is a virus spreading throughout the world, and it can make some people really sick. I explain the health department has asked everyone to wear face masks when they go out to help reduce the spread. She’s usually generally agreeable about wearing the mask at this point, though it doesn’t last. As I mentioned, Mom is mid-stage Alzheimer’s so I’m still able to reason with her to some degree. If your loved one is in a later stage this might not work. 

Sometimes when Mom is irritated with the mask she’ll try to take it off saying she doesn’t care if she gets COVID. When this happens I tell her how wearing the face mask is protecting others and that it’s polite. Mom doesn’t want to be rude, so sometimes this helps.

Face Mask LaundryKeep face masks front and center

  • Have your senior with dementia help with face mask laundry and sorting.
  • Make getting new masks a fun event where your senior tries on and picks out her favorites.

Having Mom participate in sorting and folding clean masks gives us an opportunity to talk about wearing them and their importance even on days she isn’t going anywhere.

Anytime we get a new batch of masks, I encourage Mom to “pick one” she likes for our next outing. I’ll even have her try it on and look in the mirror to make sure it “looks good”.

Face mask comfort

  • Keep a selection of masks on hand in an assortment of sizes, types, and materials.
  • Try 100% cotton masks to help with breathability.
  • If elastic earloops are bothersome, try a mask that ties or use a hair clip to hold the loops behind the head.
  • Clean glasses with a drop of dish soap and let air dry to help reduce fogging.

Choosing a mask that’s comfortable is really important. Currently, Mom has more tolerance for super soft, thin masks. I’ve had the most success with masks made of jersey knit (t-shirt material). These masks do not hold their shape when you inhale but collapse against your nose. This seems to help Mom with the stuffy, hot air feeling she gets in masks that create a pocket. Your senior may have a totally different preference, so definitely try a variety of types and materials to see what works best.

If she’s having a hard time we’ll switch things up.  I’ll pull out a different mask and tell her to try this one instead. Sometimes changing out the mask makes all the difference and buys us the time we need. 

Distract, distract, distract

  • Keep your senior’s hands busy so they think less about the mask and have less opportunity to pull it off.

Keeping Mom’s hands busy and her mind on something else definitely helps the mask stay on. When we go to appointments I take a word puzzle and something for her to fidget with like a Tangle.

These aren’t foolproof.

She sometimes forgets the purpose of the mask and tries to pull it off, so I’m constantly redirecting her hands away from her face and back to what she’s holding. When we are checking in or out at doctors’ appointments, I ask her to hold my purse or wallet. Giving her a job helps her stop thinking about the mask for a moment or two.

Face Mask and Hand SanitizerSanitize like crazy

  • Wash or sanitize everything your senior with dementia might touch while wearing a face mask because they are going to touch their face. 

Mom will inevitably touch her face about a hundred times while wearing a mask. So we do the best we can to sanitize everything she might be touching while we are out. I wipe down her walker, our purses, wallets, pens, car doors, her chair at the doctor’s office, and anything else she’s likely to touch.

How do you get your senior with dementia to wear a face mask? Please share your suggestions in the comments! 

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2 Comments

  1. So it’s not just my Mom who says very loudly, “I can’t breathe” when we tell her she has to wear a mask? And there is no reasoning with her somedays! ugh!

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