Dementia and personal hygiene

Use wash products the person is familiar with, recommends Helen Drain

Ensuring a good personal hygiene routine can become more challenging as your loved one’s dementia progresses. Helen Drain, Dementia Trainer & Deputy Training Team Leader at Christies Care in Suffolk, has this advice…


You might notice that, over time, a person with dementia begins to care less about personal hygiene. This might be because they struggle with the practicalities of washing and dressing, or it might be because they have lost the motivation to take care of their appearance.

A person with dementia might be reluctant to let you help them get washed or dressed, so it’s important to be sensitive and tactful, and to respect their wishes as they adjust to needing more assistance. Here are some tips on how to help a person with dementia with their personal hygiene…

Let the person do as much as possible
The person might struggle with buttons or zips, but they might still be able to pull their trousers or cardigan on/off. Establish what they are still capable of. Doing as much as they can for themselves will give them a sense of independence, and will help to boost their self-esteem.Taking clothes off over a person’s head sometimes causes fear, try to use clothing that button up at the front or is secured at the back. You could adapt clothing by using Velcro instead of buttons.

Use familiar products
When helping with washing, use the products they know and love, to establish familiarity and routine. If they have always used a certain soap, make sure that’s the one you continue to use.

Explain what you’re doing
If someone suddenly started pulling your jumper over your head, or tried to wipe a flannel across your face without warning you, you’d probably be shocked and react badly! Always gently explain what you’re about to do and why you’re doing it, and keep reassuring them if that is helpful.

Understand their fears
Deep bathwater can make a person with dementia nervous, as can an overhead shower (the rush of water above them can sound scary). If the person becomes nervous or agitated, try to understand what is making them worried, and adapt. A hand-held shower might work best.

Preserve the person’s dignity
The person with dementia might feel embarrassed about being undressed in front of you. Find ways to make them feel more comfortable: perhaps keep them warm and covered in a dressing gown and only expose the area you are washing.

Be flexible
Sometimes, the person with dementia might seem too upset or agitated to be washed or dressed. Try to stay calm. Ask yourself if it’s really that important that they have a bath or get dressed right at that moment. Leave it and try again later, or the following day.

Christies Care is a family-run, live-in care agency, rated Outstanding by the CQC. For more information, please visit https://www.christiescare.com

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