Achieving Safe, Effective, and Compassionate Quarantine or Isolation of Older Adults With Dementia in Nursing Homes

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2020 Aug;28(8):835-838. doi: 10.1016/j.jagp.2020.04.025. Epub 2020 May 4.


Nursing homes are facing the rapid spread of COVID-19 among residents and staff and are at the centre of the public health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As policy changes and interventions designed to support nursing homes are put into place, there are barriers to implementing a fundamental, highly effective element of infection control, namely the isolation of suspected or confirmed cases. Many nursing home residents have dementia, associated with impairments in memory, language, insight, and judgment that impact their ability to understand and appreciate the necessity of isolation and to voluntarily comply with isolation procedures. While there is a clear ethical and legal basis for the involuntary confinement of people with dementia, the potential for unintended harm with these interventions is high, and there is little guidance for nursing homes on how to isolate safely, while maintaining the human dignity and personhood of the individual with dementia. In this commentary, we discuss strategies for effective, safe, and compassionate isolation care planning, and present a case vignette of a person with dementia who is placed in quarantine on a dementia unit.

Keywords: COVID-19; Dementia; infection control; isolation; nursing homes.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / complications
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control*
  • Coronavirus Infections / therapy*
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission
  • Dementia / complications
  • Dementia / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Involuntary Treatment / ethics
  • Involuntary Treatment / methods
  • Nursing Homes / standards*
  • Pandemics / prevention & control*
  • Patient Isolation / ethics
  • Patient Isolation / methods*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / complications
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / therapy*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / transmission
  • Quarantine / ethics
  • Quarantine / methods*
  • SARS-CoV-2